BY ERIC TUCKER, LINDSAY WHITEHURST AND MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge on Monday set a March 4, 2024, trial date for Donald Trump in the federal case in Washington charging the former president with trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, rejecting a defense request to push back the case by years.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan rebuffed claims by Trump’s attorneys that an April 2026 trial date was necessary to account for the huge volume of evidence they say they are reviewing and to prepare for what they contend is a novel and unprecedented prosecution. But she agreed to postpone the trial slightly beyond the January 2024 date proposed by special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution team.
“The public has a right to a prompt and efficient resolution of this matter,” Chutkan said.
If the current date holds, it would represent a setback to Trump’s efforts to push the case back until well after the 2024 presidential election, a contest in which he’s the early front-runner for the Republican nomination.
The March 2024 date would also ensure a blockbuster trial in the nation’s capital in the heat of the GOP presidential nominating calendar, forcing Trump to juggle campaign and courtroom appearances and coming the day before Super Tuesday — a crucial voting day when more than a dozen states will hold primaries and when the largest number of delegates are up for grabs.
“I want to note here that setting a trial date does not depend and should not depend on the defendant’s personal or professional obligations,” Chutkan said.
Chutkan has so far appeared not only cool to Trump’s efforts to delay the case but also concerned by social media comments he’s made outside court. This month, she warned Trump’s legal team that there were limits on what he can say publicly about evidence in the investigation. She also reiterated her intention Monday for Trump to be “treated with no more or less deference than any defendant would be treated.”
The Washington case is one of four prosecutions Trump is facing. A March 4 trial would take place just weeks before a scheduled New York trial in a case charging him in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actress. Meanwhile in Atlanta on Monday, where Trump and 18 others were charged with trying to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was arguing to try to get the charges against him transferred from state court to federal court.
The setting of the trial date came despite strong objections from Trump lawyer John Lauro. He said defense lawyers had received an enormous trove of records from Smith’s team — a prosecutor put the total at more than 12 million pages and files — and that the case concerned novel legal issues that would require significant time to sort out.
“This is one of the most unique cases from a legal perspective ever brought in the history of the United States. Ever,” Lauro said, calling it an “enormous, overwhelming task” to review such a “gargantuan” amount of evidence.
Prosecutor Molly Gaston countered that the public had an “exceedingly” strong interest in moving the case forward to trial and said that the crux of the evidence has long been well known to the defense. Trump, she noted , is accused of “attempting to overturn an election and disenfranchise millions.”
“There is an incredibly strong public interest in a jury’s full consideration of those claims in open court,” Gaston said.
Trump, a Republican, was charged this month in a four-count indictment with scheming to undo his loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Smith’s team has brought a separate federal case accusing him of illegally retaining classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, property, Mar-a-Lago, and refusing to give them back. That case is currently set for trial next May 20.
Trump also faces state cases in New York and Georgia. Manhattan prosecutors have charged him with falsifying business records in the connection with a hush money payment to the porn actress who has said she had an extramarital affair with Trump. Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, have charged Trump and the 18 others in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at undoing that state’s 2020 election.
A spokesperson for New York’s state court system, Lucian Chalfen, said Chutkan spoke Thursday with the judge in Trump’s Manhattan criminal case, Juan Manuel Merchan, about their respective trials ahead. Chalfen said no decision has been made regarding postponing or rescheduling the Manhattan trial, which is to begin March 25, 2024.
Trump surrendered Thursday in the Georgia case, posing with a scowl for the first mug shot in American history of a former U.S. president. He has claimed the investigations of him are politically motivated and an attempt to damage his chances of winning back the White House.
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