Urgent : Trump’s legal woes mount as 2 trial dates and campaign calendar collide

Former President Donald J. Trump and his allies have signaled that they intend to try to turn his overlapping legal woes into a referendum on the criminal justice system. The Republican front-runner is facing a growing tangle of criminal and civil trials that will overlap with next year’s presidential primaries. As former President Donald J. Trump campaigns for the White House while multiple criminal prosecutions against him play out, at least one thing is clear: Under the laws of physics, he cannot be in two places at once.

Trump’s Legal Woes Mount as Trial Dates and Campaign Calendar Collide

As former President Donald J. Trump campaigns for the White House and faces multiple criminal charges, at least one thing is clear: According to the laws of physics, he cannot be in two places at once

In general, those involved in criminal cases must be present in the courtroom during trials. Not only would it force Mr. Trump off the campaign trail, possibly for several weeks, but the judges overseeing his trials must also jostle for position in setting the dates. The collision course raises extraordinary — and unprecedented — questions about the logistical, legal and political challenges of the various lawsuits unfolding against the backdrop of a presidential campaign.

“Courts will have to decide how to balance the public interest in speedy trials against Trump’s interest and the public interest in his ability to campaign to make the democratic process work,” said Bruce Green, a Fordham University professor and former prosecutor. “It’s a kind of complexity that courts have never faced before.”

More broadly, the complications point to a different reality: Mr. Trump’s troubles are entangling a campaign with the courts to a degree the nation has never experienced before and raising tensions over the ideal of separating the justice system from politics.

Mr. Trump and his allies have made it clear that they intend to try to turn his intertwined legal troubles into a referendum on the criminal justice system, seeking to portray it as a politically weaponized tool of Democrats.

Mr. Trump is already facing state court on civil fraud charges in New York in October. Another trial over whether he defamed author E. Jean Carroll is set to begin Jan. 15, the same day as the Iowa caucuses. On January 29, the trial begins in another trialwhich accuses Mr Trump, his company and his three children of using the surname to lure vulnerable people into investing in bogus business opportunities.

Because the cases are civil, Mr. Trump could choose not to attend the trials, just as he avoided Ms. Carroll’s previous lawsuit, in which a jury found him guilty of sexual violence.

But he won’t have that chance in a criminal case in New York on charges that he falsified business records as part of a cover-up of a sex scandal shortly before the 2016 election. The opening date for that trial, which is likely to last several weeks, is in late March, about three weeks after Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will vote on March 5.

Jack Smith, the special prosecutor leading two federal investigations into Mr. Trump, asked the judge overseeing the indictment in the criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s hoarding of classified documents to set a trial date for late 2023.

But on Tuesday — the same day Mr. Trump said federal prosecutors could indict him in the probe into the events that culminated in the Capitol riots — his lawyers argued to Judge Eileen M. Cannon that she should delay any trial in the case. documents until after the 2024 elections. The intense publicity of the election campaign calendar, they say, will violate his rights.

Mr. Trump has long pursued the strategy of procrastination in legal matters, the desire to run out of time. If he succeeds in delaying his federal trial — or trials, if he is eventually charged in the Jan. 6 probe — after the 2024 election, it’s possible that he or another Republican will win the presidency and order the Justice Department to drop the cases.

The president does not have the power to overturn state cases, but even if Mr. Trump were found guilty, any imminent appeals would likely remain pending until Inauguration Day in 2025. If he is back in office by then, the Justice Department could also mount a constitutional challenge to try to delay any further legal proceedings, such as prison terms, while he is in office.

Arguing to delay the trial until after the election, Mr. Trump’s lawyers argued on Tuesday that Mr. Trump was effectively fighting his 2024 opponent, President Biden, in court.

“Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the primaries, but right now he’s the front-runner,” said Todd Blanche, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers. “And if things go the way we expect, the person he’s running against — his administration is going after him.”

But David Harbach, a prosecutor on Mr. Smith’s team, said Mr. Trump was “no different than any other busy, important person who has been indicted.” He called the claim of political influence “an outright lie” seemingly more for the “court of public opinion” than a court.

“The attorney general appointed a special prosecutor to take this investigation out of political influence, and there was none — none,” he said.

Justice Cannon, who has yet to decide on a possible trial date, said that in considering the delay, she believed the focus should be on legal issues such as the volume and complexity of classified evidence, rather than the campaign.

Appointment of the date of consideration of the case with documents is the first and most basic material and technical issue. But the possibility of indictments in two probes into Mr. Trump’s bid to stay in power beyond the 2020 election, a federal probe led by Mr. Smith and a state probe overseen by Fannie T. Willis, the Georgia district attorney who said charges could be filed in Augustmay face this soon.

There is no higher authority to act as an air traffic controller when multiple judges decide on dates that may conflict. There are also no rules that give priority to federal or state cases or that state that whichever case comes first must go to trial first.

Brandon L. Van Grack, a former prosecutor who worked on the Russia probe under special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, cited the investigation as an example. Prosecutors filed charges against Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort in two jurisdictions, first in the District of Columbia and then in the Eastern District of Virginia, but the trials were back-to-back.

“There was sensitivity to the hearing dates, and attorneys had to educate both judges about scheduling and conflicts, but there was no rule that said the D.C. case came first and therefore went to trial first,” he said. said “It’s the judge’s discretion.”

As an informal practice, Mr. Green said, judges hearing potentially conflicting cases sometimes call each other and work out a calendar. According to him, no procedural norm allows such conversations, but it is considered appropriate.

Looming over Mr. Trump’s legal jeopardy is an unwritten Justice Department rule known as 60 days rule. As a primary or general election approaches, prosecutors should not take overt actions that could improperly influence the vote.

However, it is not clear how this principle applies to issues that are already public and therefore less likely to change a candidate’s image. In particular, Raymond Hulser, an experienced prosecutor who was consulted for years on how to apply the 60-day ruleis a member of Mr. Smith’s team.

Further complicating matters is that Mr. Trump has hired the same lawyers to lead multiple investigations against him, dragging them out over time.

Christopher Keyes, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, cited the former president’s packed court calendar during Tuesday’s hearing. Mr. Kiese not only indicated that he would need to prepare for fraud trials in October and January, but also pointed to Mr. Blanche’s role in a March criminal trial over falsified business records in New York.

“These are the same lawyers dealing with the same client, trying to prepare for the same exercises, so I think it’s very relevant,” Mr Kiese said.

Several legal experts said that while people have the right to choose their own legal representation under the Sixth Amendment, it is not absolute. They noted that judges can tell defendants that if their chosen attorneys are too busy to take on additional matters in a timely manner, they should hire others.

Such an order would give Mr. Trump something else to complain about in an appeals court, said Professor Green, who added: “I think it’s probably a losing argument.”

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