Will Trump’s Other Cases Go to Trial?

Will Trump’s Other Cases Go to Trial?

In this newsletter last week, our colleague Jesse McKinley brought you news of history in the making: Donald Trump’s conviction in Manhattan on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star just before the 2016 election.

This week, we want to look forward a bit and catch up on the state of Trump’s three other criminal cases, which are moving through the courts at a much more leisurely pace. One of them has now stopped moving at all.

Trump, the first former U.S. president to be convicted of a crime, is still facing two federal indictments brought against him by the special counsel Jack Smith. One is in Washington, where he has been charged with illegally attempting to subvert the peaceful transfer of power during the 2020 election. The other is in Florida, where he stands accused of illegally holding on to classified documents after leaving office and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them.

Trump is also the lead defendant in a third case in Fulton County, Ga. The proceeding there, brought by the district attorney Fani Willis, is based on sprawling racketeering charges that he conspired with a group of his aides and lawyers to tamper with the results of Georgia’s state election.

All of the cases are bogged down in significant delays. That is in no small part because Trump’s lawyers have filed flurries of motions as part of a deliberate strategy to postpone any trials from taking place for as long as possible.

At this point, it seems likely that the Manhattan case may be the only one of the four to reach a jury before the election in November. And if that happens and Trump regains the White House, it could have enormous consequences for the rule of law.

A re-elected President Trump would almost certainly order his Justice Department to drop the federal cases, according to his advisers. The state case in Georgia could also be vulnerable under a department policy that forbids prosecuting a sitting president.

It can be confusing to keep track of the various proceedings in each of the separate cases. So here are a few quick updates on where things stand.

This was Smith’s first case against Trump, filed about a year ago, and the charges accuse the former president of illegally removing 32 classified documents from the White House. Trump is also charged with conspiring with two employees at Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club and estate, to obstruct repeated efforts by the Justice Department to get the secrets back.

Of Trump’s four indictments, it is arguably the most conventional, following the traditional legal path laid out in other classified documents prosecutions.

The case is now tied up in an expansive effort by Trump’s lawyers to have the charges dismissed. They have filed nearly a dozen motions attacking the indictment on a number of grounds. Those include claims that Smith was improperly appointed to his job, that he and his team committed prosecutorial misconduct and that he filed the charges as part of a politicized effort to harm Trump’s re-election campaign.

Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the case in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., has only dealt with two of Trump’s motions to dismiss so far, denying both of them. But she has scheduled hearings this month on more of his efforts to derail the case, so we’ll know more fairly soon.

As Alan reported last week, the portrait that has emerged so far is that of an industrious but inexperienced and often insecure judge whose reluctance to rule decisively even on minor matters has permitted one of the country’s most important criminal cases to become bogged down in a logjam of unresolved issues.

Regardless of her motives, Cannon has effectively imperiled the future of a criminal prosecution that once seemed the most straightforward of the four Trump is facing.

Two months after Smith charged Trump in the documents case, he filed a second indictment in Washington, accusing the former president of conspiring to subvert democracy and stay in power against the will of voters following his loss in the 2020 election.

That has been frozen since early December as different courts in Washington have considered a novel claim raised by Trump: that he is immune to the charges because they arose from official acts he took while he was president.

The case is now before the Supreme Court, which is poised to issue a decision in the next several weeks. How the justices rule will help determine whether the case goes to trial sooner rather than later.

There is a narrow path for a trial to be held before November. But it is probably more likely that the case will be sent back to the district court judge, Tanya Chutkan, to determine which of the charges stemmed from official acts and which should be thought of as strictly private ones. That process, which could affect the scope of the case a jury eventually ends up hearing, could take weeks or even months to complete.

It has always been unlikely that the broad election interference case against Trump and several of his allies would go to trial before Election Day. That was largely because of an unforced error by Willis, the district attorney, who had a romantic relationship with one of her top deputies, Nathan Wade. Defense lawyers have claimed that the relationship created an untenable conflict of interest and have sought to have Willis disqualified from the case.

Now, however, it is all but certain that jurors will not hear the charges before going to the polls.

Even though the trial judge in Georgia refused to disqualify Willis from the case, defense lawyers appealed. And this week the appeals court set a tentative date in early October to hear arguments on the question — an issue that legal experts say could take months to resolve.

Moreover, the appeals court then effectively froze the proceedings as it works, meaning that the dozens of other pretrial motions that have yet to be resolved will have to wait until the appeal is completed.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

Can an appeal of the Manhattan case end up in the U.S. Supreme Court? — Beth Minger, Johnston, Iowa

Alan: There is a path for Trump’s conviction in Manhattan to end up in front of the Supreme Court, but it is a very narrow one that will not happen anytime soon. Don’t forget: Trump’s 34 guilty verdicts in the case were on state charges, so he will have to pursue appeals in the state system first. There is no real legal mechanism for the Supreme Court to step down from on high and insert itself in the Manhattan case. But eventually, if Trump exhausts his state appeals and if he can find an open question of constitutional law, he can seek review by the Supreme Court.

  • We’re waiting to see how Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who oversaw Trump’s conviction, responds to a demand by House Republicans to testify next week about the case.

  • We should also get a response next week from Trump’s lawyers about Jack Smith’s request in the classified documents case for what amounts to a limited gag order Trump. After Trump falsely claimed the F.B.I. was authorized to kill him during its search of Mar-a-Lago two years ago, Smith asked Judge Cannon to bar him from any further remarks that could endanger agents working on the case.

Thanks for reading the Trump on Trial newsletter. We’ll be back next week — Alan and Maggie

Read past editions of the newsletter here.

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