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Will Trump Go on Trial Before the Election?

One issue that could affect Donald Trump's electability (and maybe make some primary voters care about it) is the timing of his four trials. Three prosecutors want to put Trump on trial in four cities before Memorial Day. It's not going to happen. The logistics alone make it impossible. A more realistic question is: "Will any trial be completed before the 2024 election?"

Note that Trump will not be cooperating. In fact, he will be doing his absolute best to delay all the trials until after the election. First of all, sitting in a courtroom takes time away from campaigning. Second, sitting in court all day will put him in a foul mood, which is never good for any candidate. Third, while he is on trial, the news of the trial will drown out everything else. Fourth, a guilty verdict in any case could move just enough voters in a couple of swing states to cost him their electoral votes. Fifth, if he wins and is inaugurated before any trials, he will kill off all the federal prosecutions. For him, there is no upside to a speedy trial.

Special Counsel Jack Smith wants to start the conspiracy trial on Jan. 2, 2024. Trump's counteroffer was April 2026. Maybe he is hoping the judge will split the difference and make it February or March 2025. That would be fine with Trump. However, Judge Tanya Chutkan has a reputation for moving quickly and not accepting any nonsense. She has also warned him that if he keeps intimidating witnesses, she will hold an early trial to reduce the amount of damage he can do. She probably means it. This case has one of the two most serious sets of charges in it.

The other most serious case is the RICO case in Georgia. Prosecutor Fani Willis wants the trial on March 4. Depending on when Chutkan schedules the D.C. case, that is probably wildly optimistic, but sometime next summer might be doable, even if the D.C case starts in the spring. A complication here is that 19 people will be on trial so there will be 19 lead lawyers, all yelling different things. That doesn't speed things up, although some of the 19 might yet take plea deals in return for flipping. On the other hand, Judge Scott McAfee has a retention election in Nov. 2024 in blue Fulton County, and the best thing he can do to win it is show that he is a fair, but firm, judge, who doesn't get pushed around by defense lawyers. The value to him of a televised trial would be immense. So it is in his personal interest to see the case at least starts before his election, the presidential election be damned, only they happen to fall on the same day.

Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg has taken note that his case (falsifying business records) is the least important of the four and is willing to let the others take priority if need be. He won't insist on an early date.

The sequencing of cases is important. Sometimes evidence that comes up in one trial can be used in another. In particular, the D.C. case and the Georgia case involve many of the same people, although none of the supporting players have been indicted in D.C. (yet). Smith undoubtedly has refrained from doing that for the time being to make the case simpler and easier to prove. If a witness says something incriminating about Trump under oath in the first case, that witness could be called to repeat it in the second one.

Also relevant to the timing is that jury selection in all the cases could be time consuming as the lawyers and judges try to find 12 jurors and 2-3 alternates who are unbiased and available every day for weeks, maybe months. Most people who have a job or children aren't going to want to be in court every day for several months, even if they aren't constantly threatened, which they will be. So will we get juries of bored, lonely, apolitical retirees who have nothing else to do? We'll see. (V)

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