WASHINGTON (CN) — Donald Trump will face trial on March 4, 2024, in the former president’s landmark election subversion case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan decided during a hearing on Monday.
The judge's decision struck a middle ground between special counsel Jack Smith's request for a Jan. 2, 2024 start date and a proposal from the defense for April 2026, which would likely provide enough time for the trial to conclude before the 2024 presidential election gets underway.
“These proposals are obviously very far apart … neither of them are acceptable," Chutkan, an Obama appointee, said at the beginning of the hearing.
Chutkan acknowledged her ordered date places the trial just three weeks before the start of another criminal trial Trump faces in Manhattan, over alleged hush money payments he made during the 2016 presidential campaign, which is slated to begin March 25, 2024.
She indicated that she had communicated with Justice Juan Merchan in that case about scheduling, but did not elaborate.
The selected date adds to Trump’s already busy 2024 schedule, between his remaining two criminal trials in Florida and in Georgia and the busy presidential campaign season with the Republican primary beginning in Iowa on Jan. 15, 2024, and ending at the Republican National Convention, scheduled for July 15-18, 2024.
Chutkan clashed with Lauro over his argument that the 12.8 million pages of documents turned over by the government warranted an additional two years to allow Trump’s legal team to prepare an adequate defense.
“President Trump is entitled to a fair trial, he is entitled to have a defense that is adequately prepared,” Lauro said after a heated exchange in which Chutkan asked Lauro to “lower the temperature.”
Lauro previewed a number of likely motions, including arguments that Trump’s actions should be shielded by executive immunity as “the indictment basically indicts President Trump for being President Trump.”
He also repeated the claim the case is a political prosecution ordered by President Joe Biden to hamper his former opponent and current Republican frontrunner. Lauro characterized the charges as retaliation for criticisms Trump made against the president and his son Hunter Biden, who himself faces federal charges related to tax crimes and unlawful gun possession.
Molly Gaston, a member of the special counsel’s team, criticized Lauro’s arguments that he and the ex-president’s legal team needed two additional years to review the documents.
She revealed the government had made three additional productions of documents, adding 1.2 million pages since the initial release to a stack of documents that Lauro had compared to eight stacked Washington Monuments.
As she had done in a response last week, Gaston on Monday emphasized that a majority of the discovery — about 7 million documents — were already available to the defense, stemming from Trump’s campaign, the National Archives, Secret Service and public statements and social media posts.
Trump had plenty of prior notice of the government’s investigation, which began in September 2022, and could have begun preparing well in advance, Chutkan noted.
The former president also has extensive resources at his disposal, like his Save America political action committee raising funds for his legal fees. That's an advantage over the average criminal defendant, many of whom do not get years to prepare their defense prior to trial, the judge pointed out.
Prosecutors in their court filings related to the trial date emphasized both the government's and the public's interest in speedy proceedings that would end well before Americans vote for the next president in November.
Lauro pitched the ex-president’s preferred start date, April 2026, nearly two years into the next presidential term, part of the ex-president’s strategy to delay this case beyond the 2024 elections in the hope he can make his way back to the White House before he can be convicted.
If Trump does take back the presidency, he could order his newly appointed attorney general to throw out any federal charges or pardon himself of any convictions.
A similar debate over scheduling played out in the presidential candidate’s other federal trial in Florida over his alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump appointed in November 2020, split the difference, ordering a May 2024 start date.
Chutkan did not set a date for the next hearing in the case, but indicated she would announce a status conference in a minute order soon.Follow @Ryan_Knappy
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