Americans are about to learn significant new details on the timing and the substance of the trials of Donald Trump, even as the former president and Republican front-runner steps up his effort to alchemize his unprecedented legal peril to boost his White House bid.
Two key hearings on Monday – one in Georgia and one in Washington – will take the drama over Trump’s quadruple criminal indictments into a new phase, following the extraordinary scenes and political maneuvering that culminated in the release of Trump’s booking mug shot last week.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will sketch the first substantive evidentiary arguments in any of the cases facing Trump in a hearing on ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ bid to get his state case moved to federal court. Meadows and Trump have been charged along with 17 other aides, ex-officials and lawyers in a sweeping racketeering case alleging a broad conspiracy to change the result of the 2020 election.
At the same time in Washington, Judge Tanya Chutkan will hold a status hearing to consider dueling arguments by special counsel Jack Smith and Trump’s defense team over the date for a trial in the federal investigation into Trump’s alleged attempt to prevent now-President Joe Biden from taking office. Smith wants the trial to begin January 2 – two weeks before Trump’s first big test in the 2024 primary race in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. The ex-president’s team has asked for much more time, and is proposing a date of April 2026. Trump is not expected to be at the hearing.
The two hearings will illuminate critical aspects of Trump’s challenges as he attempts the previously unthinkable feat of winning a major party presidential nomination and then the White House while standing trial in multiple criminal cases. The simultaneous hearings Monday in two cities will preview the strain on Trump and his team and the drain on resources that will unfold next year, when the former president could spend as many critical campaign moments in the courtroom as barnstorming early-voting states. The two hearings also underscore the daunting legal equation bearing down on Trump: Even if he makes progress in one case, he could suffer serious reversals in one of the others, increasing the chances of a conviction before voters go to the polls in November 2024.
The new legal maneuvering, which is just a taste of the extensive pre-trial litigation that will intensify in coming months, will take place as Trump escalates his claims that he is being politically persecuted by the Biden administration.
Almost as soon as Trump left Atlanta after surrendering at the Fulton County jail Thursday, his team began to monetize his mug shot. In fundraising appeals over the weekend, Trump, who often claimed almost unlimited powers as president, said that the Biden administration’s pursuit of him was akin to the tyranny the United States rejected in its battle for independence.
The Trump campaign claimed Saturday it had raised $7.1 million since the former president was booked Thursday. Any attempts to verify that number will have to await the release of the next round of quarterly fundraising accounts.
The drama surrounding the various trials will draw huge attention in the coming days, but as is often the case with Trump, the magnitude of the spectacle could disguise the unique gravity of what is unfolding. Trump is innocent until proven guilty and denies every one of the 91 charges against him. But he is also the first ex-president to be criminally charged – let alone while also being the front-runner in his party’s nominating contest as he seeks another term, which could conceivably begin when he is a convicted felon. And the broad thrust of the charges in both the federal election subversion case and the Georgia case is that Trump used his huge power as president to try to deprive some Americans of the most sacred privilege in a democracy – their vote.
The hearing in Georgia that could yield major revelations does not involve Trump directly, but rather Meadows. The former White House chief of staff wants to get his case moved from state court to federal court, where he could have a better chance of getting it dismissed on the grounds that his actions following the 2020 election were within the scope of his duties as a federal official. Meadows and Trump are among 19 co-defendants in a vast racketeering case built by Willis.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who received the January 2021 call in which Trump asked him to “find” the votes to overturn the outgoing president’s loss to Biden in the crucial swing state, and two other lawyers who were on the call have been subpoenaed to testify.
Monday’s hearing is expected to serve as a preview for a later attempt by Trump to get his own case moved to federal court, where he may hope to get a more sympathetic jury pool. Extensive pre-trial litigation in the Georgia case could also end up frustrating attempts by Willis, who initially sought a March 2024 trial date, to bring the case before the 2024 election.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a vehement opponent of Trump in the GOP primary race, said on CBS “Face the Nation” Sunday that Meadows may have grounds for his case – but predicted it wouldn’t impact an ultimate verdict.
“I think that whether Mark Meadows wins that motion or doesn’t is not going to make a substantive difference on how ultimately a jury is going to be asked to make these decisions at the time of trial,” Christie said. Some experts have also warned that whatever the outcome of the Meadows case, it should not be seen as an inevitable foreshadowing of how the courts might respond to a similar request by Trump.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the select committee that investigated the January 6 attack on the Capitol in the previous Democratic-run House, said Sunday that Meadows could be unsuccessful in his effort to get his case moved to federal court. “There is no question that the state has the power to prosecute someone who is a federal official or a federal employee,” Raskin told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”
“You can just think about a federal official employee who engages in a bank robbery or a murder, obviously the state would get to prosecute them,” Raskin argued. He added that the case would hinge on whether Meadows was “actually engaged in the work of the federal government and he was acting pursuant to a federal policy.”
Following Smith’s federal probe, Trump earlier this month pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the election. The case has already seen significant controversy. Chutkan has warned Trump that his First Amendment rights are not “absolute” and that his status as a criminal defendant must take priority over his activity as a presidential candidate. This followed fierce criticism by Trump – on social media and elsewhere – of both Smith and Chutkan.
The judge has also shown that, while she is known for scrupulously protecting the rights of defendants, she wants to move the case along, though Trump’s team claims the evidence is so voluminous that it will need months or even years to prepare for the trial.
Trump’s attorneys are also arguing that Smith’s proposed timeline for the trial would conflict with other criminal and civil cases in which the former president is embroiled. Trump has pleaded not guilty in a separate case brought by Smith in Florida – over his alleged mishandling of national security secrets among the classified documents he hoarded at his Mar-a-Lago resort – and in a business accounting case arising out of a hush money payment to an adult film star that is due to be tried in Manhattan next year.
Smith wants to start jury selection in the federal election subversion case in December. If he gets his preferred trial date of January 2, the proceedings would begin just days before the third anniversary of the mob attack on the Capitol by Trump’s supporters.