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Trump Legal News: The Washington Post March

The staff of the nation's capital's paper of record is going to be working overtime in March 2024. Most readers probably know why by now, but if not, here's a rundown of the major Trump-related legal news from yesterday:

  1. Et tu, Brute?: It would seem that March is not a great month for wannabe dictators. Everyone knows what happened to Julius Caesar, of course. And next March, roughly 2,060 years later, Donald Trump will go on trial for his alleged crimes related to the 1/6 insurrection. As expected, Judge Tanya Chutkan issued an order yesterday laying out a timeline for the trial, and it's consistent with her "rocket docket" reputation. Pre-trial motions are due by Oct. 9, and the responses and counter-responses have to be in by Nov. 6. Expert witnesses have to be submitted by Dec. 11, exhibit lists will be wrapped up by Jan. 9 of next year and complete witness lists have to be in by Feb. 19. And the trial itself will commence on (or possibly near) March 4, 2024. In case you don't have your calendar handy, Super Tuesday is on... March 5, 2024.

  2. Appeal!, Part I: Donald Trump was furious with the announced schedule and immediately vowed to appeal. Needless to say, "sue!" or "appeal!" are his knee-jerk reactions to most setbacks, even if those things make zero sense in view of the facts on the ground. And in this particular circumstance, he's got no leg to stand on. The calendaring of a criminal case is not one of the (few) things that is subject to interlocutory appeal. Lawyers sometimes throw Hail Mary passes, of course, and if they try it here (while busy with 800 other aspects of the trial), they would have to show that: (1) normal procedure for these questions should be set aside, and then (2) that Chutkan's decisions are so problematic that they are worthy of being rewritten from above. These are both nearly impossible arguments to make, and to pull them both off? Well, 1/impossible x 1/impossible = 1/impossible2. So, very long odds, indeed.

  3. Appeal!, Part II: If Chutkan's scheduling is problematic for some reason, then the correct time to address that is in the post-trial appeal. Trump's hopes of prevailing at that time, while better than 1/impossible2, are still pretty dim. Reading her order, not to mention the discussions that took place in court yesterday, it's clear that she's mindful of the issues in play here. On top of that, and as Chutkan noted, Jack Smith and his team have bent over backwards, organizing, digitizing and annotating the evidence, so as to make it easily digestible for Team Trump. Meanwhile, as we've noted multiple times, Trump and his lawyers really shot themselves in the feet with their ridiculous proposal for starting the trial in 2026. That basically left Jack Smith's proposal of January 2, 2024, as the only serious one, and the only one Chutkan really had a duty to factor into her thinking. Finally, if Trump's lawyers do try an interlocutory appeal of the trial date (and lose), then trying again after the trial would be taking two bites at the apple. Judges don't look kindly at that.

  4. Tiiiiiiiime, Is Not on Trump's Side (No, It's Not): With apologies to Kai Winding, then Irma Thomas, then The Rolling Stones, Trump may be taking some amount of solace in the notion that he can waste a bunch of time, and drag this thing out, thus sticking it to Chutkan and the deep state. He shouldn't be thinking like that, however. The mountain's worth of motions that are coming from his legal team are going to be dealt with very quickly, and that includes any attempts at appeals. Judges, from Chutkan on up the ladder, do not look kindly on foot-dragging longshot legal filings. Also, in federal trials, voir dire is conducted by the judges, not the attorneys, which means juries are seated much faster. Add it all up, and the Trump trial is going to start in March, probably on the 4th (or maybe a few days later), and it will be complete sometime that month (or maybe in early April).

  5. Busy Calendar, 2024: If Trump is going to be on trial in Washington in March, it creates some problems for the other legal cases in which he's involved. Recall that Fulton County DA Fani Willis has also requested a March 4 start date. She's not going to get it now, presumably, and she may even update her request. Still, she could very well get an April start date. Well, maybe May or June. See, even before Trump's legal calendar included the March 4 trial, it already had the New York case filed by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and overseen by Judge Juan Merchan scheduled for March 25. No official announcement has been made, as yet, but Chutkan has already had a telephone chat with Merchan, and they are going to coordinate. There's also the Florida trial, currently scheduled for May 20. So we could end up with a trial schedule along the lines of Washington in March, New York in April, Florida in May and Georgia in June. However it shakes out, Trump is likely to spend much of primary season on trial. Oh, and he could plausibly be in prison for much of that, too.

  6. Busy Calendar, 2023: Trump's 2023 legal calendar is likely to be pretty busy, as well. Yesterday, it was announced that he and his co-defendants will be arraigned in Georgia on Sept. 6. Then, it will be a busy time for motions in most or all of the various criminal cases. Also, he and his team have to prepare for the second E. Jean Carroll suit, which commences shortly after the new year begins, on Jan. 15. Folks who have tried to make a rough estimate propose that by the time 2024 arrives, Trump's attorneys could bill something in the ballpark of 100,000 hours. At $500/hour, which is cheap for serious legal representation, that would be $50 million. And we haven't even covered things like filing fees and paying various non-lawyer workers (like paralegals), 2024 expenditures, whatever judgment Carroll is likely to get, paying for co-defendants' representation to keep them quiet, etc. This is going to get very, very expensive.

  7. The Co-Defendants, Part I: On the subject of Trump's co-defendants, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made a surprise decision to take the stand yesterday, as part of the hearing to determine if his case will be moved to federal court. He did that because he felt, probably rightly, that he has a better chance of convincing Judge Steve C. Jones than would a lawyer. However, this also meant that Meadows was subject to cross examination, testimony that could be used in a future trial against him. This is a big risk, for a relatively low chance of success, which indicates how very badly Meadows wants the trial to be moved to federal court. That, in turn, tells you something about how screwed he and his team think that he (and, presumably, the other defendants) are if they try to fight this in Georgia state court.

  8. The Co-Defendants, Part II: Meanwhile, as reader C.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, brings to our attention, the disbarment hearing of (former) Trump lawyer John Eastman is underway, and is a potential preview of the arguments that we may see in Georgia. Or, perhaps it's more accurate to say, the lack of arguments. Thus far, the main thing that has happened is that Eastman's claim there was historical precedent for the election-overturning shenanigans was shot down. Think about what the Red Baron did to Snoopy, and you begin to get the picture. After seeing that go down in flames, Eastman tried for a postponement, and got shot down again. He's not gonna have a law license much longer.

  9. The Co-Defendants, Part III: MSNBC Legal Analyst Jill Wine-Banks has an expert answer to why some of Trump's co-defendants are demanding a quick trial. Her opinion is that the only thing that really makes sense is that they fear getting thrown under the bus by Trump, and by severing their trial, they can avoid that. Of course, that also puts them in a position to turn the tables and throw him under the bus first. Wine-Banks has no inside information, of course, but she knows a little something about prosecuting politicians, having been one of the folks who prosecuted the Watergate evildoers.

  10. With Friends Like These...: Alina Habba, the former Trump lawyer who was told her services were no longer needed, continues to appear on TV to "defend" the former president. And this weekend, during an appearance on Fox, Habba was asked if Trump would be able to prevail in Washington, given the likely short timeline to prepare (this was before Chutkan had officially set the trial calendar). Habba's response:
    [I]f this was a normal person... I could understand the concern [but Trump is] incredibly intelligent and he knows the ropes. What is he going to have to be prepped for? The truth? You don't have to prep much when you've done nothing wrong.
    That's some Trump-level braggadocio there, but it also completely undercuts his argument that he isn't being given enough time to prepare. And this is not the first time Habba has gone on TV to say something rather adverse to her former client. Presumably, she's just some combination of "enthusiastic" and "not so sharp." That said, given that she was unceremoniously shown the door, one is tempted to speculate that these "missteps" are not so accidental.

And there you have it. Every day, we think "there's not going to be THAT much more Trump legal news right now," and every day we're wrong. Maybe tomorrow? (Z)

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