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Trump’s strategy to delay cases before the election is working

Trump’s strategy to delay cases before the election is working

Despite some dismal days spent in the courtroom, Donald Trump earned two significant legal victories this week with separate decisions that make it all but certain two of the pending criminal trials against him will take place after the 2024 election.

As had been expected for months, US district judge Aileen Cannon on Tuesday scrapped a 20 May trial date that had been set in south Florida over the former president’s handling of classified documents. The delay was almost entirely the doing of Cannon, a Trump appointee, who allowed far-fetched legal arguments into the case and let preliminary legal matters pile up on her docket to the point where a May trial was not a possibility.

On Thursday, the Georgia court of appeals announced it would hear a request from Trump to consider whether Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney, should be removed from the election interference case against him because of a relationship with another prosecutor. The decision means both that Trump will continue to undermine Willis’s credibility and draw out the case. “There will be no trial until 2025,” tweeted Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University who has been closely following the case.

The third pending case against Trump, a federal election interference case in Washington, also appears unlikely to go to trial before the election. The US supreme court heard oral arguments on whether Trump has immunity from prosecution last month and seemed unlikely to resolve it quickly enough to allow the case to move forward ahead of the election.

The decisions mean that voters will not get a chance to see Trump held accountable for possible criminal conduct during his last term in office before they decide whether to give him another term in office. (Trump is currently in the middle of a criminal trial in Manhattan that centers around allegations he falsified business records to cover up hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, but it happened prior to his presidency, during the 2016 campaign.)

The developments vindicate a pillar of Trump’s legal strategy. Facing four separate criminal cases, his lawyers have sought to use every opportunity they can to delay the cases, hoping that if he wins the election in November. Were he to return to the White House, he would make the two federal cases against him go away (he has said he would appoint an attorney general who would fire Jack Smith, the justice department’s special prosecutor). It’s unclear if Fani Willis, the Fulton county DA, could proceed with a criminal case against a sitting president.

“In all likelihood, Trump’s election would pause the proceedings against him in Georgia. There is a large consensus among legal academics that a sitting president cannot be tried for crimes. That, however, is an untested constitutional theory, which Fani Willis will probably challenge,” Kreis said. “If I had to hedge a bet, should Trump win in November, his Fulton county co-defendants will be tried mid-2025 and Trump would stand trial alone after his second term ends.”

While Trump may have successfully secured delays in three of the cases against him, prosecutors in Manhattan continued to move ahead this week in laying out evidence for why he should be found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records. Testimony from key accounting employees at the Trump organization helped connect Trump to the monies that were paid out to Michael Cohen. Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleges she had an affair with Trump in 2006, also testified in detail about the incident, irritating Trump, and bringing one of the most embarrassing episodes back to the center of the public discourse.

Trump’s lawyers objected to the testimony and requested a mistrial, saying the lurid details Daniels disclosed had prejudiced jurors against defendants. Judge Juan Merchan rejected that request, but still conceded jurors had heard information they should not have.

While Trump is likely to use the episode in any potential appeal, experts doubted whether he would succeed.

“Skirmishes like this happen all the time, and defense attorneys call for mistrials in many, if not most, criminal trials. I don’t think this was even close to cause for a mistrial and don’t think it would end up being a major issue on appeal,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who now teaches at New York Law School.

“The details of the sexual encounter are relevant because they go to why Trump would want to suppress her story. The judge tried to limit any prejudicial effect by asking the witness to be less colorful in her description. She didn’t abide by this until warned a few times, but this hardly seems like a cause for concern on appeal.”

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