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US judge sets March 4 for historic Trump trial


Published : 29 Aug 2023 10:19 PM | Updated : 30 Aug 2023 04:49 PM

A judge on Monday set March 4, 2024 for former president Donald Trump's election subversion conspiracy trial -- placing one of the biggest criminal cases in American history at the height of the next White House race.

The date -- a full two years before the defense team's proposal -- is the eve of "Super Tuesday," when more than a dozen states will pick between Trump and one of his rivals to be the 2024 Republican presidential nominee.

"Setting a trial date does not depend on the defendant's professional obligations so Mr Trump will have to make a date work," US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan told the hearing in Washington.

The decision could harm Trump's hopes of recapturing the White House, and he posted an angry reaction on his social network Truth Social, calling lead prosecutor Jack Smith "deranged" and complaining of "election interference."

"Today a biased, Trump Hating Judge gave me only a two month extension, just what our corrupt government wanted, SUPER TUESDAY. I will APPEAL!" he said, although trial dates are usually not appealable.

Molly Gaston, prosecuting, said Trump was accused of "historic crimes" and described an "extraordinary public interest" in a quick trial.

The 77-year-old has been slapped with four criminal indictments this year -- twice by Smith and once each by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia.

But the case before Chutkan may pose the greatest legal peril to Trump -- particularly if it ends up being the first of what is shaping up to be a busy legal calendar for the former president.

Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges in an early August court appearance and was not required to attend Monday's procedural hearing.

Smith had asked to begin on January 2 but Trump's lawyer John Lauro described that proposition as "a request for a show trial, not a speedy trial," calling the idea of having just four months to prepare "absurd and ridiculous."

"We will certainly abide by Your Honor's ruling, as we must," he told Chutkan after she announced her decision. But he added: "The trial date will deny President Trump the opportunity to have effective assistance of counsel."

- Attack on US Capitol -

Trump is to go on trial in New York later in March on charges of paying election-eve hush money to a porn star, and in Florida in May for allegedly mishandling top secret government documents.

Trump and 18 co-defendants also face racketeering charges in Georgia over their efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in the southern state and are due to enter pleas at an arraignment next Wednesday.

The judge presiding over the Georgia case has not yet set a firm date for that trial to begin.

The case before Chutkan accuses Trump of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding -- the January 6, 2021 joint session of Congress that was attacked by a mob of Trump supporters.

Trump, the sole defendant in this indictment, is also accused of seeking to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims he won the 2020 election.

Whit Ayres, a veteran political consultant, said that if Trump, who enjoys a commanding lead over the Republican 2024 field, is acquitted in his first trial he would be all but certain to win the party's presidential nomination.

"I don't know any way you'd stop him," he said in an online interview.

"But if he gets convicted of a serious felony charge, I don't know how people would react to that, because we've never had anything remotely close to a similar situation," the Republican pollster added.

"I'd have to think that a serious felony charge, maybe coupled with some prison time, would at least cause some people to rethink their support."

The 61-year-old Chutkan, who was appointed by former Democratic president Barack Obama, has handed down some of the stiffest sentences to participants in the attack on the US Capitol, and Trump has accused her of being "highly partisan" and "very biased."

Chutkan also has a legal history with Trump -- she ruled against him in a November 2021 case, notably declaring that "presidents are not kings."

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