Mounting delays cast doubt on future Trump trials

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Mounting delays cast doubt on future Trump trials

Judge Aileen Cannon’s indefinite delay of Donald Trump’s documents trial is among the latest roadblocks to the former president seeing trial in several of the outstanding cases against him ahead of the election.

Cannon on Tuesday granted one of the earliest asks from Trump’s legal team in declining to set an ultimate trial date — leaving unclear when it will come before a jury. She otherwise shuffled the schedule to spend more time on legal issues raised as far back as February.

Trump’s other federal charges are also facing roadblocks to reaching trial before the election, with proceedings in his Jan. 6 case on pause until the Supreme Court resolves a bid by the former president to toss the case by arguing he is immune from prosecution as a onetime executive. 

And the possibility of any Trump trial in Georgia in his election interference case there took a hit when a state appeals court on Wednesday agreed to review a lower court’s decision not to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) following her romantic relationship with another prosecutor on the case.

The mounting issues present a series of new wrinkles to any of the cases reaching trial before the election. If Trump wins the White House, his Justice Department would almost certainly drop all charges.

“It is entirely possible that the Manhattan case is the only one that makes it to verdict before the election,” said Brad Moss, a national security attorney. Trump is now under trial in New York concerning allegations about covering up hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels to conceal an affair.

“Georgia and the Mar-a-Lago documents cases are almost certainly delayed at this point. The D.C. election fraud case hinges on how and when SCOTUS rules. It is possible but by no means certain that the fall campaign could see that trial take place. Or it could remain bogged down in legal fights too,” Moss said.

In a Tuesday order issued less than two weeks before Trump’s trial in the documents case was set to begin, Cannon laid out a new calendar for considering numerous motions and other issues raised by Trump.

“The Court also determines that finalization of a trial date at this juncture — before resolution of the myriad and interconnected pre-trial and CIPA issues remaining and forthcoming — would be imprudent and inconsistent with the Court’s duty to fully and fairly consider the various pending pre-trial motions before the Court,” Cannon wrote. 

She noted that she still has “eight substantive pretrial motions” she must rule on, including various arguments by Trump seeking to kill the case.

Cannon is spending considerable time on issues that some outside observers say other judges likely would have addressed more quickly. 

Her decision also punts until midsummer litigation over how the classified information at issue in the case will be presented in court — a process governed by the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA). 

“By delaying the CIPA proceedings even further, Judge Cannon has effectively set the case back at least three months when compared to the schedule DOJ last proposed, which had the case going to trial in July,” Brian Greer, a former CIA attorney, told The Hill. 

“In light of this, it’s going to be almost impossible to have the trial prior to the election.” 

Now on the calendar are three days devoted to exploring a motion from Trump that prosecutors described as “difficult to decipher” that seeks to expand the scope of who must turn over evidence in the case. Trump argues he needs information from the White House and various intelligence agencies due to political animus.

“I’m not aware of any precedent for a court holding an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the Intelligence Community is within the scope of the prosecution team. The role of the IC agencies is to work with prosecutors to protect their classified equities in the documents that were compromised by Trump,” Greer said.

“They are victims of crime, not prosecutors of it.” 

While the Justice Department has tangled with Cannon before — it challenged and got reversed her order installing a special master to review the documents — the new schedule is not appealable.

“Cannon isn’t going anywhere,” Moss said. “She has carefully ensured her actions on substance don’t merit appeal to the 11th Circuit, and her procedural actions easily fall within her discretionary authority.”

“No one other than Judge Cannon really knows why she is doing things this way. It may be inexperience, it may be deliberate obfuscation, or it may just be that she wants to be thoroughly comprehensive and cautious in her approach to the issues. Another judge probably would have handled this differently, but Judge Cannon is the one to whom the case was assigned, and that is just the way the cookie crumbles,” he added.

What about the Jan. 6 case?

The inaction on the Mar-a-Lago case does clear the way, however, for progress in the federal Jan. 6 case.

But that case is facing its own circular route to a trial — one that could easily end up at the Supreme Court for a second time.

Trump has asked the Supreme Court to toss the case, arguing the criminal immunity presidents enjoy while in office carry over once they are no longer an executive.

During the April trial, the Supreme Court seemed open to carving out some type of immunity for former presidents, suggesting the case could be remanded back to the federal circuit court for further review of Trump’s claims.

If that’s the case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan would once again weigh Trump’s immunity argument in light of the high court’s guidance.

Trump’s team might then appeal her determination — setting the stage for yet another lengthy battle to work its way to the Supreme Court.

Such a pathway would be similar to Trump’s efforts to block Congress’s efforts to review his tax returns, an issue weighed by the justices both in 2020 and then again in 2021.

It’s possible the Supreme Court could rule against Trump, paving the way for resumption of the Jan. 6 case ahead of the election. Prosecutors recently indicated during a hearing in the Mar-a-Lago case that continuing to trial in a case where charges have already been filed would not violate the DOJ’s guidance against pursuing litigation in the 60 days ahead of an election.

Georgia case faces potential Willis detour

And in Georgia, prosecutors faced another setback when the Georgia Court of Appeals granted the request from Trump and several allies charged alongside him to review their bid to disqualify Willis.

That battle already led to a months-long detour that forced Willis and prosecutor Nathan Wade to testify about their relationship.

Trump’s team has yet to file a motion to pause proceedings in the lower court while the appeals court considers their challenge, but it remains an option.

“President Trump looks forward to presenting interlocutory arguments to the Georgia Court of Appeals as to why the case should be dismissed and Fulton County DA Willis should be disqualified for her misconduct in this unjustified, unwarranted political persecution,” Trump attorney Steve Sadow said in a statement.