WASHINGTON — The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s election interference case in federal court set a trial date for March 4, a schedule that could have a crucial impact on the 2024 race for the White House.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan's decision sets the trial in the middle of the Republican presidential primaries and the day before Super Tuesday.
At a hearing Monday, Chutkan heard arguments from Trump's lawyers and federal prosecutors about when the case could be set for trial. Special counsel Jack Smith proposed that the trial start in January, with jury selection beginning this December, while Trump’s team said the trial should be pushed back until April 2026, after the presidential election.
"These proposals are obviously very far apart," Chutkan said Monday. "Neither of them is acceptable.”
Chutkan said that Trump will have to prioritize the trial and that she would not change the trial schedule based on another defendant's professional obligations, for example a professional athlete's.
The public has an interest in the fair and timely administration of justice, Chutkan said. Trump's lawyer said going to trial next year would violate Trump's rights, noting the millions of pages of discovery material that prosecutors have turned over.
“This is a request for a show trial, not a speedy trial,” Trump lawyer John Lauro said of the special counsel's proposed schedule. “Mr. Trump is not above the law, but he is not below the law."
After Chutkan ruled, Lauro stood to make an objection on the record and state that Trump’s defense team will not be able to adequately represent its client with that trial date. Chutkan noted his objection and moved on.
Earlier in the hearing, Chutkan said that while the special counsel team's proposal was too soon, Trump's proposal of 2026 was not reasonable. “Discovery in 2023 is not sitting in a warehouse with boxes of paper looking at every single page,” Chutkan said.
“This case is not going to trial in 2026,” Chutkan said. She said Trump's team has had time to prepare already; the public has known about the existence of the grand jury investigating Trump since September, and the identity of many of the witnesses has been known.
A federal grand jury in Washington indicted Trump on four charges this month: conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction, and conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted. Trump pleaded not guilty at his arraignment hearing early this month.
Federal prosecutors said in their request that a January start 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."
In their proposal to begin the trial in April 2026, attorneys for Trump cited the large amount of discovery in the case, as well as Trump's ongoing legal issues in other jurisdictions.
Trump posted on Truth Social that he would appeal the trial date decision, saying it comes "smack in the middle of Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent’s campaign against him. Election Interference!" But orders setting trial dates are not appealable, according to NBC News legal analyst Chuck Rosenberg. The trial start date could still move because of other litigation in the case, however.
Trump faces three other criminal cases: state prosecutions in New York and Georgia and a federal prosecution in Florida in connection with his handling of classified documents. The New York trial is also scheduled to start in March, beginning on the 25th, and the trial in Florida is set for May. The judge in the Georgia case, in which Trump was arrested, booked and released Thursday, has yet to schedule trial proceedings.
Trump did not and was not required to attend Monday's 10 a.m. hearing at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, which overlooks the site of some of the most brutal violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Chutkan, who has already received death threats in connection with the case, previously warned Trump against intimidating witnesses. “Mr. Trump, like every American, has a First Amendment right to free speech," she said. "But that right is not absolute."