A federal judge on Monday set a date of March 4, 2024, for Donald Trump’s election subversion conspiracy trial — placing one of the biggest criminal cases in American history at peak election season.
The date is the day before “Super Tuesday,” when more than a dozen states vote in the Republican primary contest to pick the party’s candidate for the 2024 election — with Trump the firm favorite to secure the nomination.
Special counsel Jack Smith had asked for the trial of the 45th US president to begin on January 2, while Trump’s attorneys countered with a proposed date of April 2026 — 17 months after the election.
“Setting a trial date does not depend on the defendant’s professional obligations so Mr Trump will have to make a date work,” US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said after admonishing the defense that a two-year delay was too long.
The decision could have a pivotal impact on Trump’s hopes of recapturing the White House.
He took to his social network, Truth Social, to demand that the case be dismissed, calling Smith “deranged” and accusing President Joe Biden of sowing “division, anger, and hatred.”
“It will only get worse because these deranged lunatics know no bounds. Someday, however, Sanity will again prevail,” he posted as Chutkan began hearing arguments at a federal courthouse in Washington.
Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges in an early August court appearance and was not required to attend Monday’s procedural hearing.
The 77-year-old has been slapped with four criminal indictments this year — twice by Smith and once each by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia.
But the case before Chutkan may pose the greatest legal peril to Trump — particularly if it ends up being the first of what is shaping up to be a busy legal calendar for the former president.
“President Trump is not your average person. He’s incredibly intelligent and he knows the ropes,” his lawyer Alina Habba told “Fox News Sunday” when asked how her client would prepare for his upcoming trials.
“He also knows the facts because he lived them.”
Attack on US Capitol
Trump is to go on trial in New York later in March on charges of paying election-eve hush money to a porn star, and in Florida in May for allegedly mishandling top secret government documents.
Trump and 18 co-defendants also face racketeering charges in Georgia over their efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in the southern state.
The judge presiding over the Georgia case has not yet set a firm date for that trial to begin.
The case before Chutkan accuses Trump of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding — the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress that was attacked by a mob of Trump supporters.
Trump, the sole defendant in this indictment, is also accused of seeking to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims he won the 2020 election.
Whit Ayres, a veteran political consultant, said that if Trump, who enjoys a commanding lead over the Republican 2024 field, is acquitted in his first trial he would be all but certain to win the party’s presidential nomination.
“I don’t know any way you’d stop him,” he said in an online interview.
“But if he gets convicted of a serious felony charge, I don’t know how people would react to that, because we’ve never had anything remotely close to a similar situation,” the Republican pollster added.
“I’d have to think that a serious felony charge, maybe coupled with some prison time, would at least cause some people to rethink their support.”
The 61-year-old Chutkan, who was appointed by former Democratic president Barack Obama, has handed down some of the stiffest sentences to participants in the attack on the US Capitol, and Trump has accused her of being “highly partisan” and “very biased.”
Chutkan also has a legal history with Trump — she ruled against him in a November 2021 case, notably declaring that “presidents are not kings.”