Trump’s Master Plan to Defeat His Criminal Cases Isn’t Working


Former President Donald Trump rolled into 2024 with a master plan to defeat his four criminal cases: Utilize his political firepower to delay his trials past the election, then use the presidency to dismantle them.

But lately, it’s not working out the way he hoped. 

After a dizzying series of recent legal decisions, it’s now looking possible that Trump may be forced to go through two criminal trials before November—giving prosecutors two shots to convict him on felony charges before votes are counted.  

On Thursday, the judge in Trump’s New York City criminal case officially set Trump’s first six-week trial to begin on March 25, in a crucial defeat for Trump’s efforts at delay. The failure could hobble both Trump’s presidential campaign and his hopes to later use the presidency to thwart prosecutors. Many voters say they have misgivings about putting a felon in the White House, according to a bevy of recent polls. And if Trump is convicted in this New York State prosecution, he won’t be able to pardon himself even if he wins, because presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes. 

Justice Juan Merchan breezily dismissed objections from Trump’s lawyers that spending six weeks in court would unduly keep him off the campaign trail. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche called the late-March trial date “unfathomable,” because “we’re in the middle of primary season.” 

Trump’s team has repeatedly argued that his campaign for the presidency, and the fact that he used to be the president, should give him the right to duck his criminal trials, either temporarily or permanently. 

Trump has used the calendar to his advantage over and over again as a litigant. But Thursday’s hearing was only the latest to show the limits of that strategy in his recent attempts to battle criminal prosecutors. He also faced a crucial defeat in Washington D.C. that could yield a second trial in 2024 before election day—one with higher stakes than in New York, and longer potential criminal sentences. 

Last week the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals rejected Trump’s claims that he should enjoy complete criminal immunity as a former president in a landmark decision. That ruling kicks the ball over to the Supreme Court for the next move. But even so, with the start of the trial in Manhattan now fixed, Trump’s legal calendar appears to leave enough time for a trial in his D.C. case to begin sometime this summer, according to a group of lawyers who wrote a recent detailed analysis published in Just Security

Trump’s D.C. case for allegedly attempting to subvert the 2020 election had been scheduled to begin in early March, and is currently on hold pending his immunity appeal. But the analysis concluded that, barring any big surprises, the that trial could kick off in June or July, and wrap up in September or October, right before the vote. 

Trump’s power to undermine the cases against him would be magnified enormously if he recaptured the presidency before he’s convicted. From the White House, he could order his new Attorney General to simply drop the two federal criminal cases against him in Washington D.C. and South Florida. And his lawyers have also raised the argument that, as a sitting president, any state-level criminal trial would need to be put on hold until the end of his presidency. It’s unclear whether that would happen, but Trump would, of course, be deprived of that argument if he loses the election or is convicted before taking office. 

Trump’s criminal cases in South Florida and Georgia look relatively less likely to begin before the election. 

In Georgia, Trump was accused of violating the state’s racketeering statute along with over a dozen codefendants while attempting to reverse his electoral defeat in the Peach state, in a sweeping case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. 

Willis has asked for a trial to begin in August, although no firm start-date has yet been set on the calendar. 

Willis is currently battling accusations of wrongdoing originally raised by one of Trumps’ codefendants in the case and joined by Trump and others. They argue that Willis had an improper romantic relationship with the lead prosecutor in the case, Nathan Wade. On Thursday, a court in Georgia heard testimony from a personal associate of Willis who claimed that the relationship began earlier than Willis has admitted. Willis also fired back in fiery testimony. It remains to be seen whether the judge overseeing the case will agree that the situation presents a conflict that requires Willis’ removal, although many legal experts have said they doubt that will happen

In Florida, Trump is accused of violating the Espionage Act by squirreling away classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago beachside estate. In that case, Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon has seemed amenable to delays sought by Trump’s legal team that could easily push the complex national security trial past November. 

In New York, Trump is accused of falsifying business records related to hush-money payoffs to an adult film star who claims she slept with Trump. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all cases, and denied all wrongdoing.

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