The federal judge presiding over Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case against former President Donald Trump, set the trial date for March 4, 2024, right in the middle of the Republican presidential primary calendar. The lawsuit alleges interference in the 2020 presidential election.
The U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, Tanya Chutkan, rejected a proposal by the former president’s defense team that the trial start in April 2026 — which would be long after the 2024 presidential election results.
Instead, Chutkan set the date closer to the one proposed by the government and Smith, who wanted the trial to begin January 2, 2024. They suggested it would last about four to six weeks. The date would have fallen only weeks before the New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary and the Iowa caucuses.
Former President Trump is the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.
However, a criminal trial against the former president, a candidate with a substantial lead over the Republican presidential field, being set in the middle of the primary cycle is likely to cause a potential political firestorm.
Judge Chutkan said neither date was acceptable.
Once scheduled, John Lauro, defense attorney, told the judge that Trump’s defense team would abide by her ruling but would “not be able to provide adequate representation.”
“I feel the need to put that on record,” said Lauro.
While Chutkan said she understood Lauro’s position, she added she would issue an order with a pre-trial schedule.
There was a brief courtroom discussion of whether the defense team plans to poll citizens of the District of Columbia to determine whether or not to submit a motion for a venue change.
Judge Chutkan said she would be “watching very carefully for anything which might poison the jury pool.”
Lauro said the defense hasn’t started such polling, but with the accelerated trial schedule, they may begin to do so, and added he has never seen a judge restrict such action.
Chutkan replied she had no intention to restrict anything of the sort, but she would be protective of the jury pool of the District of Columbia.
The trial date follows other investigations and probes into former President Trump
The trial date follows Smith’s investigation on whether Trump was involved in the Capitol incident on January 6, 2021, and any alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election result.
August 1, former President Trump was indicted on four charges out of Smith’s January 6 probe.
Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges, which included conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and conspiracy against rights.
In the classified records probe, the former president pleaded not guilty to all 37 felony charges stemming from Smith’s investigation. The charges include false statements, conspiracy to obstruct justice and willful retention of national defense information.
July 27, former President Trump was charged with an additional three counts as part of the investigation by Smith’s superseding indictment — two other obstruction counts and an additional count of willful retention of national defense information.
A Florida federal judge has scheduled a May 20, 2024, trial date.
President Joe Biden is also under investigation by a special counsel for his alleged improper retention of classified records. Special Counsel Robert Hur’s probe remains unclear.