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Prosecutors Seek January Trial in Trump Election Conspiracy Case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump stands next to his attorney John Lauro as he takes an oath before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya during his plea hearing at federal court in Washington, Aug. 3, 2023 in a courtroom sketch.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump stands next to his attorney John Lauro as he takes an oath before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya during his plea hearing at federal court in Washington, Aug. 3, 2023 in a courtroom sketch.

Ken Bredemeier

U.S. Justice Department prosecutors on Thursday asked for a January 2, 2024, start date for the trial of the criminal case against former President Donald Trump accusing him of illegally conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

In a filing with U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, the office of special counsel Jack Smith, the lead prosecutor in the case, said it expected its presentation of evidence against Trump would take “no longer than four to six weeks,” with jury selection occurring before that in December.

Such a time frame could force Trump to spend his weekdays in court in early 2024 at a time when the first Republican presidential nominating elections are scheduled, such as the party caucuses on January 15 in the Midwestern state of Iowa.

National polls show Trump is far and away the party’s leading presidential contender ahead of the November 2024 election, where he could again face Biden.

Trump’s lawyers almost assuredly will seek to have the trial start date pushed well beyond January, although they do not need to tell Chutkan their preferred date until next week.

In a separate case brought by Smith in the southern state of Florida, where Trump is accused of illegally hoarding highly classified national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump lawyers argued for a start date after next year’s presidential election. But U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon set the trial for late May.

In Washington, Trump pleaded not guilty last week to the four-count indictment and also has asserted his innocence against the 40-count classified documents indictment in Florida. The former U.S. leader has vilified Smith as “deranged” and a “crackhead,” claiming the accusations against him are aimed at keeping him from winning the White House again.

Trump has called for Chutkan to recuse herself and urged that the trial be moved out of Washington, where Trump won just 5% of the vote against Biden in 2020 and the jury pool will be made up of registered voters. But his lawyers have not asked for a new judge or a change of venue, which, in any event, are not often granted in U.S. criminal trials.

The prosecutors said in their court filing, “A January 2 trial date would vindicate the public’s strong interest in a speedy trial — an interest guaranteed by the Constitution and federal law in all cases, but of particular significance here, where the defendant, a former president, is charged with conspiring to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election, obstruct the certification of the election results, and discount citizens’ legitimate votes.”

Chutkan has signaled she plans to set a trial date at an August 28 hearing.

Trump is also facing another criminal trial in March in New York state, where he is accused of falsifying business records at his real estate conglomerate to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to an adult film performer ahead of his successful 2016 run for the presidency to silence her claim of a one-night tryst with Trump a decade earlier. He has denied her claims and pleaded not guilty in the case.

A prosecutor could file another election fraud case against Trump next week in the southern state of Georgia, where Trump sought to overturn his loss in the state by asking election officials to “find” him 11,780 votes — one more than Biden’s margin of victory.

In the Washington case, prosecutors say that Trump “was determined to remain in power” for another four-year term in the White House and that he plotted with six unindicted co-conspirators to overturn the results leading up to January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed into the U.S. Capitol to try to keep lawmakers from certifying that Biden had won.

The court filing in Washington came as Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, pleaded not guilty to new charges in the classified documents case in Florida.

Trump had earlier waived his right to appear alongside Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, who is also accused in the case, at the hearing in the federal court in Fort Pierce. Cannon accepted Trump’s not guilty plea, which he entered in court papers last week.

De Oliveira has yet to hire a Florida lawyer to defend him, and his arraignment was pushed back until Tuesday.