Former President Trump is set to face trial in March 2024 in the Justice Department’s case targeting his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to begin jury selection on March 4 comes after special counsel Jack Smith’s team asked for a Jan. 2, 2024, trial date, while Trump’s team suggested a trial date in April 2026.
“These proposals are very far apart and for reasons I’ll get into shortly none of them is acceptable,” Chutkan said at the start of the hearing.
“While Mr. Trump has the right to prepare, the public has a right to prompt and efficient resolution of this matter,” she added later.
In setting the date, Chutkan noted Trump would face trial more than three years from the day a mob of his supporters ransacked the Capitol after attending his rally.
Chutkan at turns criticized both prosecutors and Trump’s legal team for proposing a trial date either too soon or too distant, risking either failing to give a defendant time to prepare or having witnesses’ memories fade.
Chutkan also noted that a trial date “cannot and should not” depend on a defendant’s professional obligations, seemingly nodding to Trump’s third bid to capture the presidency, noting that if a professional athlete were on trial “it would be inappropriate to set a trial date to accommodate her schedule.”
The trial will now kick off the day before the Super Tuesday suite of primaries.
Though at one point Chutkan criticized Smith’s team for failing to point to large cases that went to trial in the five-month timeline they suggested, her exchanges with Trump attorney John Lauro proved more heated, with the judge telling him twice to “take the temperature down” as he voiced concerns over the trial date.
Lauro repeatedly referenced his “sacred obligation” to diligently represent Trump and spent much of the time arguing there was simply too much evidence in the case for him to be able to prepare for trial in just a few months. He said prosecutors wanted a “show trial, not a speedy trial” and that their request was “absurd and ridiculous.”
“This is a question of whether or not one man, one U.S. citizen gets a fair trial or not, and I’m telling you, your honor, based on what I’ve seen so far, this is a gargantuan task,” he said.
Prosecutors in their arguments pointed to how vocal Trump had been about the case in justifying the need to quickly proceed to trial.
“He has publicly disparaged witnesses, he has attacked the court and citizens of the District of Columbia which is our jury pool,” Justice Department prosecutor Molly Gaston said, adding that Trump is “accused of historic crimes: attempting to overturn the presidential election disenfranchise millions of Americans and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.”
Prosecutors told Chutkan that discovery in the case has reached some 12.8 million documents.
A quarter of those documents are associated with Trump’s campaign or political action committees that have supported it, according to Gaston. Transcripts of grand jury testimony and accompanying exhibits make up five million of the documents, and three million documents originated from the Secret Service.
But Trump has had “access functionally” to about two-thirds of the total documents, Gaston said.
Some 7.8 million documents are from “entities associated with the defendant,” from National Archives documents to open-source material like tweets, Truth Social posts or information made public by the House Jan. 6 committee that investigated the Capitol attack.
“So what is in the other 5 million pages, which is what we are really talking about? Every grand jury transcript in this case up to indictment and the accompanying exhibits,” she said.
The government also produced 47,000 “key documents” to the defense, including an annotated indictment Gaston said is a “road map” to the government’s case.
Chutkan and Lauro went on to spar over the extent Trump’s team would need time to review the evidence in the case, echoing prosecutors in stressing that Trump and his network of attorneys created much of the evidence in the case through their actions and public statements.
“I don’t doubt for a minute that you have been working diligently, but you and I have a very different estimate of what time is needed to prepare for this case,” Chutkan said.
Trump’s briefs filed ahead of the hearing had balked at the total pages, creating a graphic that stacked them next to monuments while suggesting they would take years to read.
Chutkan went on to critique Lauro’s assertion he would need to personally review each page of evidence in the case, noting that much of trial preparation rests on electronically searching the large batches of evidence.
“Discovery in 2023 is not sitting with boxes in a warehouse…We both know the first cut is reviewed by electronic searches,” she said, adding that “no one’s sitting there going page by page.”
Lauro would respond that he had a duty to do so in order to adequately prepare for trial, noting that in a large white collar case “no one would blink an eye” at a case with large sums of money at stake taking years to litigate.
“The statements of my client are miniscule compared to the avalanche of information here,” he said.
Chutkan said in response, “I can tell you right now you are not getting two years. This case is not going to trial in 2026.”
Chutkan would later note that the Justice Department’s organization of the case exceeded what is offered to most defendants and added that the length of the pending investigation presented “an opportunity” for Trump’s attorneys to prepare for the scenario they now face.
“Mr Trump has been ably represented by experienced counsel during the whole pendency of this investigation. It’s not a surprise he got indicted….Mr. Trump’s counsel has known this was coming for some time and any able, zealous defense counsel would not be sitting on their hands waiting for an indictment,” the judge said.
After Chutkan’s decision Lauro offered one last statement.
“In light of the enormity of this case I feel the need to put this on the record. [I] feel that date is inconsistent with President Trump’s right to due process,” he said.
Trump’s attorneys during the hearing also previewed several defenses they will soon assert in the case.
Lauro said Trump will file a motion asserting immunity this week or early next week. Lauro called the prosecution a “flawed legal theory,” indicating Trump will file motions to dismiss each alleged conspiracy.
Trump will also file a motion arguing he is being selectively prosecuted as a “political persecution,” Lauro added.
As Chutkan made her decision, she indicated she spoke with Juan Merchan, the judge who is overseeing Trump’s hush money criminal case in New York, to let him know she was looking at setting an overlapping trial date.
Trump’s hush money trial is set to begin March 25, 2024, three weeks after Chutkan’s start date.
The former president also faces two other pending criminal cases.
His classified documents trial is set to begin on May 20, 2024.
In the Georgia election case, a trial date for Trump has not been set. Prosecutors had initially requested to start the same day as Chutkan’s newly set date, but prosecutors have since revised their proposal to instead begin this October.
Updated 12:29 p.m.