🎙️ Did you miss my segment on NPR last week, discussing the 2024 Republican primary and the first GOP debate? You can listen here.
Former President Donald Trump has now received all four indictments he’s expected to face, which means he, his lawyers, and his allies are poised to spend a lot of time in the next few months sitting in courtrooms in New York, Florida, Washington, and Georgia. There will be pretrial motions to file, and pretrial hearings to sit through, and, eventually, all four trials to attend. (Trump himself does not have to attend the pretrial hearings. At least on the federal level, defendants are generally required to attend their trials, but that requirement can be waived.)
All four cases are expected to unfurl on a similar timeline, and they have already begun to intersect and overlap with each other — as well as with Trump’s presidential campaign schedule.
The latest instance of overlap will take place today, as two key Trump legal hearings convene at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, one in Washington and one in Georgia. Here’s what you need to know about today’s proceedings:
Case: Federal indictment by Special Counsel Jack Smith concerning Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
What’s at issue today: U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama apointee, will hear arguments on Trump’s trial schedule and likely decide when the D.C. trial will begin.
Why it matters: Trump’s lawyers and Smith’s prosecutors have proposed wildly different trial schedules in the case. The government wants to begin the trial ASAP, proposing a start date on January 2, 2024. The Trump team, meanwhile, is pushing for the trial to start in April 2026, long after the 2024 presidential election is over.
The law at hand: 18 U.S. Code § 3161, which stems from the Speedy Trial Act of 1974. Under the statute, federal cases are theoretically supposed to begin within 70 days after an indictment is filed, although that timeline is more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule: delays are commonly allowed to lengthen the pretrial process, especially to hear pretrial motions along the way.
Still, the law places a premium on trials taking place in a speedy manner, which the government highlighted in its request for a start date this January. In a Fox News interview earlier this month, Trump lawyer John Lauro suggested that the Speedy Trial Act was drafted to protect a defendant’s right to a speedy trial, not the government’s, meaning the right could be waived if the defendant wanted to.
“Not so,” prosecutors wrote in their response. “Under both the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause and the Speedy Trial Act, the right to a timely trial is vested in the public, not just in the defendant.” A 2026 trial would “deny the public its right to a speedy trial,” Smith’s team added in another filing.
In their filing, Trump’s lawyers noted that the Speedy Trial Act directs the judge to consider how “unusual” and “complex” a case is when setting the trial timeline. Not only is this case “unprecedented” because its subject is a former president, Trump’s attorneys pointed out, but the amount of documents involved in the government’s investigation — which the Trump team now has to sift through — demand a longer trial schedule befitting the case’s complexity, they argued.
Trump’s attorneys used several creative analogies to explain the difficulties they face in reviewing all of the government’s documents. In order to meet the timeline requested by prosecutors, Trump’s lawyers said they would have to read 99,762 pages per day until jury selection, or “the entirety of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, cover to cover, 78 times a day, every day.”
They also supplied this handy graphic, which depicts a stack of papers 11.5 million pages high — which is how many pages the government has supplied Trump’s legal team during discovery. “That is taller than the Washington Monument, stacked on top of itself eight times, with nearly a million pages to spare,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.
Case: State indictment by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis concerning attempts by Trump and 18 others to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.
What’s at issue today: U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointee, will hear arguments on whether Mark Meadows — Trump’s former White House chief of staff and one of his Georgia co-defendants — can move his case from state court to federal court.
The Georgia hearing is an “evidentiary hearing,” which means there can be witnesses — creating something of a “mini-trial,” as Politico put it. Willis has subpoenaed four witnesses to testify: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Raffensperger, his former chief investigator Frances Watson, and Alex Kaufman and Kurt Hilbert, who both participated in the infamous call between Trump, Meadows, and Raffensperger. Their testimony will be something of a preview of the eventual Trump Georgia trial.
Why it matters: Four of the other co-defendants in the case have also asked for their cases to be moved to federal court — and more, including Trump himself, are expected to follow. They will all be watching today’s hearing closely, as an early test of how well this manuever might work.
In theory, moving to federal court could be beneficial for Trump and his allies because the jury pool could be slightly more amenable to them. If the case stays as a state matter, the jury will be drawn only from Fulton County, which voted 73%-26% for Biden in 2020. If the case is lifted into federal court, the jury would come from 10 counties in the Atlanta division of the Northern District of Georgia; these counties are primarily Democratic-leaning, as well, but not by such a lopsided margin, making it more likely that more jurors in the case might have Trump-friendly sympathies. (Remember, it only takes one juror voting not guilty to create a hung jury.)
Moving to federal court would also mean Trump’s trial would not be televised, unlike in Georgia state court. For these reasons, if Meadows is successful in moving his case to the federal level, Trump would likely try to follow.
The law at hand: 28 U.S. Code § 1442, which stems (in its earliest form) from an 1875 act of Congress. In its modern iteration, the law allows current or former federal officeholders to “remove” criminal cases against them from state to federal court if they are being charged for “any act under color of such office.”
This provision is known as “federal officer removal,” and it was instituted to prevent states from getting in the way of federal officials doing their jobs by continually indicting them on state charges. Whether Meadows — or, possibly later, Trump — succeeds will hinge on whether the judge agrees that their actions outlined in the indictment were done as part of their official duties.
The other statute at play here is the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which establishes that federal laws hold precedence over state laws. In the past, courts have applied this to create something known as “Supremacy Clause immunity,” which holds that federal officials can’t be prosecuted for carrying out actions that are a) authorized by federal law and b) “necessary and proper” to their official duties.
Meadows’ lawyers cite “Supremacy Clause immunity” in their brief submitted to the court, arguing that the actions he was charged for — which include participating in presidential phone calls with Raffensperger and other Georgia officials — were part of his official duties of “providing the President of the United States with close, confidential advice and assistance.” (Willis responded by arguing that Meadows was carrying out political, not official, work.)
Accordign to an analysis by Lawfare’s Lee Kovarsky, “Meadows has a small-but-nontrivial shot at removing,” while Trump has a smaller — but still nonzero — chance. Kovarsky writes that, while Meadows can argue that his actions were done in service of advising Trump (which are obviously the duties of a chief of staff), Trump will have a harder time arguing that he was carrying out traditional presidential duties, since the president has no statutory role connected to how a state counts or certifies their votes.
More news to know.
‘Joe the Plumber,’ who confronted Obama on ‘08 campaign trail, dies at 49 / Washington Times
A graph of note.
The day ahead.
White House: President Biden will visit Eliot-Hine Middle School in Washington, D.C., to welcome students back to school. Later, the president will meet with organizers of the March on Washington and relatives of Martin Luther King, Jr., marking the 60th anniversary of the march — and of a meeting King between President John F. Kennedy that also took place that day.
Tonight, Biden will host a White House reception to mark the 60th anniversary of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which was created in 1963 at Kennedy’s urging.
Before I go...
Here’s something fun: “Mystery hunters converged on a Scottish lake on Saturday to look for signs of the mythical Loch Ness Monster,” the Associated Press reports:
The Loch Ness Center said researchers would try to seek evidence of Nessie using thermal-imaging drones, infrared cameras and a hydrophone to detect underwater sounds in the lake’s murky waters. The two-day event is being billed as the biggest survey of the lake in 50 years, and includes volunteers scanning the water from boats and the lakeshore, with others around the world joining in with webcams.
Alan McKenna of the Loch Ness Center said the aim was “to inspire a new generation of Loch Ness enthusiasts.”
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