A federal judge on Wednesday stayed all proceedings in former President Donald J. Trump's trial on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, while an appeals court in Washington agreed to act quickly in considering Trump's claim that he is immune. to accusation in the case.
The appeals court's decision to expedite its hearing on the immunity issue capped a series of day-long back-and-forth moves by Trump's legal team and prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith. on the critical question of when the electoral trial will actually take place. It is now scheduled to begin in Washington in March.
Under the aggressive schedule set by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, all written filings in the immunity case would have to be filed by Jan. 2. The court could hear oral arguments and make a decision.
On Wednesday morning, Trump's lawyers had asked the court to avoid setting an accelerated timeline, saying that a “reckless rush to judgment” would “irreparably undermine public confidence in the judicial system.”
“The manifest public interest lies in the court's careful and deliberate consideration of these momentous issues with the utmost care and diligence,” wrote D. John Sauer, a lawyer handling Trump's appeal.
The former president's request to delay the appeal came two days after prosecutors working for Smith asked the same judges to expedite it. Prosecutors argued that keeping the election case going would justify the public's interest in a speedy trial.
Smith also filed a parallel request to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to consider the immunity question even before the appeals court does and to issue their decision quickly. Trump's lawyers have until December 20 to respond to that request.
In other action Wednesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a separate case related to Trump's prosecution. The court said it would consider whether the former president and hundreds of people who have been prosecuted for the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol can be charged in those cases under a federal law that criminalizes corrupt obstruction or impeding. . an official procedure.
Amid the dispute over the timing of the immunity appeal, the trial judge overseeing the underlying case, Tanya S. Chutkan, made a separate but related decision: She issued an order, ruling that all “further proceedings that would make moving this case forward to trial” would be suspended until the appeal was resolved.
Trump's lawyers had requested the pause when they first decided to challenge Judge Chutkan's rejection of the former president's immunity claim. Trump had argued in his initial motion to dismiss the case that he was “absolutely immune” to the election interference charges because they were based on actions he took while in office.
Winning the appeal of the immunity issue has been just one of Trump's goals. From the beginning, he and his lawyers have had an alternative strategy: delay the trial on election interference charges as long as possible.
If Trump manages to postpone the trial until after next year's election and ultimately wins the race, he will have the power to simply order the charges to be dropped. Holding a trial after the race would also mean that voters would not have had a chance to hear any of the evidence prosecutors gathered about Trump's extensive efforts to overturn the results of the previous election.
Smith's team has never explicitly suggested that they are concerned that if Trump is re-elected, he will use his political victory as a means to solve his legal problems. Instead, they have framed their concerns about the scheduling of the case in a different way, saying they are trying to protect the enormous public interest in having the case resolved in a timely manner.
Sauer rejected that position in his appeals court filing, accusing Smith of using the case to damage Trump's candidacy.
“The date March 4, 2024 has no talismanic meaning,” he wrote. “Apart from the prosecution's illegal partisan motives, there is no compelling reason why the date should be kept.”
Trump's lawyers have long complained that the trial is itself a form of election interference. They say the planned March 4 start date is just one day before Super Tuesday, the biggest date of the primary election season.
Trump's legal team has used his immunity appeal to launch political attacks against Smith and the Biden administration and portray the impeachment as a partisan effort to derail Trump's third bid for the White House.
“The prosecution has one goal in this case: to illegally attempt to try, convict and sentence President Trump before an election in which he will likely defeat President Biden,” Sauer wrote.
In his appeal papers, Sauer also complained that the expedited timeline Smith requested (and that the appeals court ultimately established) would require Trump's legal team to “work around the clock during the holidays.” ”
“It's as if the special counsel is growling, his Grinch fingers nervously drumming: 'I've got to find some way to stop Christmas from coming,'” Sauer wrote, quoting Dr. Seuss' famous book.
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