Former President Donald Trump speaks with the press at the Iowa Pork Producers booth during the 2023 Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 12, 2023.
Demetrius Freeman | The Washington Post | Getty Images
A federal judge on Monday set a March 4, 2024, trial date in former President Donald Trump’s criminal election interference case, putting the top Republican presidential candidate on trial in Washington, D.C., seven months before the 2024 general election.
Judge Tanya Chutkan delivered that ruling after rejecting two wildly different trial schedules proposed by Trump’s attorneys and special counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecutors.
The Department of Justice’s suggestion to take the case to trial on Jan. 2 “does not” give Trump enough time to prepare, Chutkan said in a Monday morning hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington.
But Trump’s proposal for an April 2026 trial date went “far beyond what is necessary,” the judge said, NBC News reported.
The jury selection process in the D.C. case is currently set to begin one day before Super Tuesday, the biggest day of elections in the presidential primary cycle.
Trump’s attorney John Lauro quickly rose to protest the trial schedule.
“In our judgment, that trial date is inconsistent with President Trump’s right to due process and the right to effective assistance of counsel,” Lauro said in the hearing. The judge noted his objection before moving on.
Trump was not required to appear at the hearing, which also addressed the federal procedures for handling the “small amount of classified information” that the government said it has identified in the case.
The former president earlier this month pleaded not guilty to the four-count indictment charging him with illegally conspiring to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Trump, a top Republican presidential candidate who is facing four separate criminal cases, has sought to move his trials past the November 2024 election. But judges in two of his cases have already set trial dates starting in 2024.
Chutkan noted Monday that she spoke with the New York judge overseeing Trump’s case in Manhattan, which is also set to go to trial in March.
Fani Willis, the Atlanta prosecutor who has charged Trump with 13 felonies related to his effort to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, had asked a judge in Fulton County Superior Court to schedule Trump’s trial on the same day, March 4. A spokesman for Willis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Chutkan’s order.
Smith, who is leading Trump’s prosecution in his two federal cases, proposed in court filings earlier this month that a Jan. 2 trial in the D.C. case would “vindicate the public’s strong interest in a speedy trial.” Trump’s attorneys responded that the trial should start more than two-and-a-half years later, claiming that they need a significant amount of time to sift through the millions of pages of potential evidence.
Trump has already lashed out at the special counsel as an “out of touch lunatic” for asking for a trial date that would likely overlap with the Iowa caucuses, which are scheduled for Jan. 15.
The hearing itself grew heated when defense attorney Lauro declared that it was an “outrage of justice” for the government to seek such a quick trial date.
“Let’s take the temperature down,” Chutkan responded.
The special counsel previously accused Trump’s lawyers of exaggerating the amount of evidence that they will have to sift through and making unhelpful comparisons, such as claiming that the number of pages of discovery material would stack up nearly 5,000 feet high.
Lauro in Monday’s hearing said the task of preparing for a case with so much discovery was “enormous” and “overwhelming.” He argued that they cannot be ready in a shorter time frame than the one they proposed.
But Chutkan was unconvinced. “This case isn’t going to trial in 2026, and I want to know, despite the rhetoric in your response to the government’s trial date, realistically why you think you need this time,” she said.
She noted that “a significant amount of this discovery is duplicative,” adding that Trump’s attorneys have known the indictment was coming “for quite some time.”
Lauro reiterated that the defense team will “have to absorb a gargantuan amount of facts.” Trump “is not above the law, but he’s not below the law,” the attorney declared.
Trump is currently the clear front-runner in polls of the Republican presidential primary field. He has claimed without evidence that his four criminal cases are part of a conspiracy to undermine his candidacy for the 2024 race.
Trump has repeatedly claimed to be the victim of “election interference,” which is essentially what he is accused of in D.C. and in the state-level criminal case in Georgia.
Trump also faces federal criminal charges in Florida stemming from Smith’s probe of the former president’s handling of classified records after leaving office in early 2021.
That case is scheduled to head to trial in May. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 40 felony counts he faces in that case.
— CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.