Special counsel Jack Smith asked a federal judge Thursday to start former president Donald Trump’s trial on charges of criminally conspiring to overturn President Biden’s election victory on Jan. 2, just before the first caucus votes are cast in next year’s presidential nomination contest, according to a court filing.
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan gave Trump’s team until Monday to make its own request and scheduled an Aug. 28 hearing in D.C. to set a trial date. Chutkan will hold her first hearing in the special counsel’s election subversion case Friday to resolve a related dispute over finalizing a protective order limiting public disclosure of evidence in the case, which Trump’s team says it needs before making trial plans.
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In a court filing, prosecutors wrote, “It is difficult to imagine a public interest stronger than the one in this case, in which the defendant — the former president of the United States — is charged with three criminal conspiracies intended to undermine the federal government, obstruct the certification of the 2020 presidential election, and disenfranchise voters.” They added, “Trial in this case is clearly a matter of public importance, which merits in favor of a prompt resolution.”
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, pleaded not guilty in Washington last week to the four counts against him in the case.
The week’s rapid-fire developments underscore how aggressively both sides are contesting how quickly the case moves to trial. Smith’s team seeks “a speedy trial,” he has said, a result that could ease concerns that the prosecution could affect next year’s presidential election. Trump’s defense has urged a slower pace, arguing unsuccessfully in a separate special counsel prosecution in Florida that the trial should come after the November 2024 vote.
Speaking after his round Thursday in the LIV Golf pro-am tournament at his course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump said: “The trials should be after the election. Because this is just election interference. … This is an indictment set up by crooked Joe Biden. … This was an indictment that was set up by a political opponent.”
Smith’s proposed date falls before the busiest month of next year’s front-loaded primary calendar and just days before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Only four states so far have set caucus or primary dates in January and February, with a small number still finalizing early slots in hopes of playing a greater influence in the outcome. More than half — 26 states and counting — are expected to select party nominees in March, with the rest following in April, May and early June.
Legal analysts say the race to trial is a useful lens for interpreting each side’s moves, including Smith’s decision to seek a streamlined indictment on Aug. 1 against Trump alone, increasing the chances of a trial before the election. But others cautioned that Chutkan and courts are acting independently, mindful that Trump faces a series of trials next year, including one set for May by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon in Florida on special counsel criminal charges of mishandling classified papers and obstruction after leaving office.
“Although it seems that trials in both cases can be completed before November 2024, I think a judge of integrity would tell you that the dates of nominating conventions and elections are irrelevant to their consideration,” said Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and University of Michigan law professor. “Both judges must balance the public’s right to a speedy trial with Trump’s right to due process.”
Special counsel prosecutors originally sought a December 2023 trial date before Cannon, but she split the difference after Trump’s defense warned that moving that fast “would result in a miscarriage of justice.” Potentially foreshadowing their pitch in arguments to Chutkan, Trump’s attorneys Todd Blanche and John Lauro argued unsuccessfully to Cannon that holding a trial during the election contest would be unfair to Trump, limit his ability to campaign and add to the burden of preparing for two other trials he is facing: an unrelated criminal trial in Manhattan in March, and a civil trial, also in New York, scheduled to begin in October, over fraud allegations leveled by the state’s attorney general.
Cannon’s ruling implicitly rejected those claims. Separately, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — whose office is prosecuting Trump on state charges of falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments during the 2016 election — has said he is open to letting federal prosecutors go first and yielding the March slot.
In Thursday’s filing, prosecutors estimated that the government’s case “will take no longer than four to six weeks.” They proposed briefing expected motions to dismiss charges or challenge the indictment by Halloween, exclude evidence by Thanksgiving, and begin and finish jury selection before Christmas, in time for opening statements immediately after New Year’s Day 2024.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston argued that the proposal would give Trump’s defense two months from indictment to make legal arguments and up to five months to review evidence in the case, which the government said it expects to substantially turn over before Aug. 28.
“This Court — like federal courts throughout the nation — can and will ensure that the defendant receives both a fair and speedy trial,” Gaston wrote. She said that under both the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and federal law, “the right to a timely trial is vested in the public, not just in the defendant.”
Prosecutors flagged that the case might require potential disclosure of some classified information but said the “minimal amount” in question could be addressed through a parallel schedule that would not change its proposed schedule, in part because one of Trump’s lawyers possesses the necessary clearance.
Friday’s hearing will turn to a debate over a protective order. Such orders are typical before the government turns over material to defendants. Trump and his lawyers said they need that information to know when they could be ready for trial and how long his defense might take. They objected that limits sought by the special counsel’s office are overbroad and could infringe on the First Amendment rights of Trump, Biden’s main political opponent.
Prosecutors said they proposed a standard order used in federal criminal cases in D.C. that limits are especially needed on grand jury and other materials because of Trump’s history of using social media to attack witnesses, prosecutors, judges and others involved in cases against him, and that Trump’s proposed version is “designed to allow him to try this case in the media rather than in the courtroom.”
Chutkan appears to be moving on a similar pace to Cannon in deciding on an order. Her hearing comes eight business days after Trump’s indictment in Washington. Cannon approved a similar order for unclassified materials in Trump’s classified documents case eight days after his indictment in Florida, although the sides are still wrangling over how to handle security-restricted information.