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Judge sets March 4, 2024, as Trump trial date in election interference case

Former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate on April 4, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Evan Vucci
Former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate on April 4, in Palm Beach, Fla.

The federal judge overseeing a criminal case against former President Donald Trump for interfering with the 2020 presidential election has set a trial date of March 4, 2024, brushing aside Trump's arguments for a two-year delay.

Judge Tanya Chutkan said she spoke "briefly" with a judge in New York who had been set to oversee a separate, hush money case against Trump later in March 2024.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had previously said he would be flexible on that case, as long as the judges agreed.

The trial in Washington, D.C., at a courthouse only steps from the U.S. Capitol where rioters ran amok on Jan. 6, 2021, falls deep into the 2024 election season — and just before Super Tuesday. It adds to a hectic legal schedule for Trump, who also faces charges in New York, Florida and Fulton County, Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to obstruct Congress, and conspiracy against rights for allegedly trying to disenfranchise millions of American voters by attempting to overturn the 2020 election and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

"Setting a trial date does not depend and should not depend on a defendant's personal obligations," the judge said. She said setting a trial date while considering a professional athlete's schedule would be "inappropriate" and the same would be true in a case involving a former president running to return to the White House.

"I take seriously the defense's request that Mr. Trump be treated like any other defendant appearing before this court, and I intend to do so," said the judge, a longtime former public defender.

Special counsel prosecutor Molly Gaston said the Justice Department had already turned over 12.8 million pages of discovery to the defense, including another group of materials overnight. She said the special counsel had created and shared a nearly 300-page annotated version of the four-count indictment, pointing out their evidentiary basis for each allegation in the charging document.

"At this point, discovery is now substantially complete," Gaston said.

Much of that material consists of duplicate papers or pages the Trump legal team has already seen coming from his political action committee, the National Archives, the Secret Service and the work of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot, the judge pointed out. Many of the potential 250 witnesses in the case worked closely with Trump, who spent months trying without success to prevent some of his attorneys, top aides and former Vice President Mike Pence from providing grand jury testimony.

"This is an overwhelming task," Trump attorney John Lauro said. "This man's liberty and life is at stake. He deserves an adequate representation."

Lauro said the trial date is "inconsistent" with Trump's right to due process and the judge said she would note that objection for the record.

Lauro, who was hired about six weeks ago, said he had a "solemn obligation" to protect Trump's rights, raising his voice.

The judge twice cautioned him to "take the temperature down here."

Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Jose Luis Magana / AP
Insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump breach the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

"It's not easy when you have the entire government amassed against you," Lauro replied. "President Trump stands before you as an innocent man right now."

Lauro argued the case would be a complex one as he foreshadowed a number of motions he will file in the coming weeks, including an argument that the former president should be immune from prosecution because he has been indicted for "being President Trump." Lauro said he's preparing a motion to dismiss the indictment based on selective prosecution, because "it provides an advantage to these prosecutors' boss who's running a campaign against President Trump." He said they plan to assert Trump was exercising his First Amendment rights, not violating federal conspiracy laws.

Prosecutor Gaston said the trial should happen as soon as the defense can reasonably be ready, given Trump's disparaging remarks about prosecutors, witnesses, the judge, and residents of Washington, D.C., which could taint the jury pool.

Earlier Monday, Trump called special counsel Jack Smith "deranged" and accused Biden White House officials of being "fascist thugs." Smith attended the hearing in Washington on Monday morning, but he didn't make any comments in or outside the courtroom.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.