Supreme Court Schedule Could Put Trump On Trial All Through Campaign’s Final Month

If the trial judge in the Jan. 6 case sticks to her vow not to bend her schedule to suit a defendant’s "day job," Trump could spend every October weekday in court.

WASHINGTON ― With the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to take up Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution for his coup attempt, the former president ― and near certain Republican presidential nominee ― could be spending every weekday of the campaign’s final month sitting in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.

Instead of visiting key states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, where his efforts to regain the White House will likely be decided, Trump might instead be sitting before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, listening to his former aides testify about his attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Instead of long speeches at rallies, Trump’s campaigning could primarily consist of his signature rants about “election interference” and a “witch hunt” as he stands outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Court House ― just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, which a mob of his followers attacked on Jan. 6, 2021, as part of his last-ditch attempt to retain power.

“You’re going to have the spectacle of his former officials, one after the other, day after day, testifying about what he did,” said George Conway, a conservative lawyer who worked on the civil lawsuit that led to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and, more recently, helped writer E. Jean Carroll sue Trump for sexually abusing and defaming her.

Whether such a scenario would help Trump or hurt him is unclear. Trump’s campaign aides did not respond to HuffPost queries, but much of his 2024 campaign has already been based on his supposed victimhood at the hands of the “deep state,” and it has let him glide toward winning the nomination over a field of rivals.

And whether the October trial scenario comes to pass depends entirely on how quickly the Supreme Court justices issue their ruling after the scheduled oral arguments on April 22.

A date for the trial of former President Donald Trump in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election will be set Aug. 28 by Judge Tanya Chutkan.
A date for the trial of former President Donald Trump in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election will be set Aug. 28 by Judge Tanya Chutkan.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The high court historically has moved quickly on questions about the presidency. In 1974, just 16 days after hearing oral arguments, justices ruled unanimously that President Richard Nixon had to turn over recordings he had made in the White House. Those tapes revealed he was aware of the cover-up in the Watergate scandal, and Nixon wound up resigning days after the tapes were made public.

In December 2000, the Supreme Court ruled just one day after oral arguments that Florida could not conduct a statewide hand recount of presidential ballots, thereby giving the presidency to Texas Gov. George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.

If the Supreme Court rules in a similar fashion in Trump’s appeal, the case could be back in Chutkan’s hands by early May.

She has previously said she would not penalize Trump’s legal team for appealing the immunity question and would give them the three months they had remaining in early December before the trial was to have started.

The resulting early August trial date potentially means it would be wrapped up and a verdict issued by Election Day on Nov. 5.

“This case can still go to trial if the Supreme Court moves quickly, and they should,” said Norm Eisen, a former White House lawyer in the Obama administration who worked with House Democrats in the first Trump impeachment in 2020.

If, however, the court does not rule until the very end of its term in late June or early July, Chutkan’s three-month clock would push a trial start date to late September or early October.

At that point, Trump’s lawyers would be out of legal arguments to delay the case any further but are almost certain to continue their political argument: claiming that it would be unfair to proceed so close to the election.

Some legal experts worry that in a presidential contest, those arguments would be difficult for Chutkan to resist. “No judge is going to start a trial four weeks before the election, especially with the possibility trial might extend beyond Election Day,” said Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

To date, however, Chutkan has indicated that she will not treat Trump differently than any other criminal defendant coming before her. “The fact that he’s running a political campaign currently has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan said at a hearing last August. “Regardless of what is going on with his, I hate to say, his day job, this is a criminal case…. I cannot and I will not factor into my decisions the influence it will have on a political campaign on either side.”

That a federal trial on the election conspiracy charges will happen at all is based on the assumption ― shared by many if not most legal experts ― that the high court will uphold a February appellate court ruling that Trump does not have immunity from prosecution over his actions while president. That it could start before the election is largely based on the presumption that justices will not send the case back to Chutkan with a demand that she hold a fact-finding hearing.

Eisen said the wording of the Supreme Court’s order Wednesday accepting the case suggests that its decision will be based on the assumption that the accusations in the Jan. 6 indictment are true.

“They talk about making the determination based on allegations,” he said. “That’s a reference to making the determination based on the indictment.”

Conway, though, said that even if the court does send the case back to Chutkan to determine, for example, whether his attempts to overturn the election were “official” presidential duties or not, she could hold a hearing on that specific question relatively quickly over the summer, bringing in the same witnesses who will later appear at the trial.

“It would be a mini-trial,” Conway said, which would have the same effect of bringing forward incriminating testimony just as the campaign season heats up. “That’s probably not going to be good for him.”

The Jan. 6-related federal case is just one of four criminal prosecutions Trump is facing. A Georgia case is based on his attempt to overturn his election loss in that state, while a separate federal prosecution stems from his refusal to return secret documents he took with him to his South Florida country club upon leaving the White House.

A New York state indictment, meanwhile, accuses him of falsifying business records to hide payments made ahead of the 2016 election to silence accusations of extramarital affairs.

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