February, Anyone?

[ Posted Monday, August 28th, 2023 – 15:51 UTC ]

Donald Trump's legal calendar for early 2024 is filling up fast. Today, the federal judge in Washington D.C. who is overseeing Trump's January 6th trial set the trial's start date for March 4th. As many have noted, this is one day before fifteen states will hold their primaries on "Super Tuesday." While some are expressing astonishment that the trial date is surprisingly early, I find myself frustrated that it is actually scheduled far too late -- because by the time it is over, Trump may well already be the de facto Republican nominee.

There will be a considerable overlap between the political schedule next year and Trump's court appearances, so let's take a look at both. The first round of Republican primaries and caucuses begin on January 15th, in Iowa. New Hampshire will then vote on January 23rd. Three other states (Nevada, South Carolina, and Michigan) will vote in February. But March is when the floodgates open, with Super Tuesday on March 5th followed by more states voting both one and two weeks later. By the end of March (if not the beginning), the Republican race may well be over (GOP primaries lean towards "winner takes all" in how delegates are assigned, which will speed the process up -- as designed).

In the legal world, Trump will face a civil suit brought by E. Jean Carroll in New York starting on January 15th. This is her second suit against Trump -- she already won the first one to the tune of $5 million. But since it is a civil case, Trump won't be required to appear (he was a no-show in the first trial). And as mentioned, today a federal judge set Trump's first January 6th case to begin on March 4th. A federal judge in New York had previously set March 25th as the start date for Trump's trial on the Stormy Daniels hush money, but this date may have to change, since the January 6th trial could take longer than three weeks. The Trump-friendly judge in Florida set his trial on the classified documents case to begin May 20th. And finally, the Georgia racketeering/January 6th case against Trump has not been scheduled for trial yet, although the prosecutor is not going to get the day she requested, since she too had asked for March 4th as a start date.

My advice to Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor, would be to amend her requested date by moving it at least a whole month earlier, to the start of February. So far, Trump's got no legal dates at all on the calendar for February, so there would be no conflicts. Or maybe the judge in the porn star hush money case could move that trial up (although this is the most minor of the four criminal trials, which would lessen its impact).

Trying Trump in a court of law is going to have a political impact. That is beyond doubt. But if the trials happen too late, it may very well back the Republican Party into a corner. If Trump is convicted of any of these crimes, he may already have the party's nomination sewn up by the time a jury actually weighs in. Republican voters should be able to see whether Trump is a convicted felon before they get a chance to vote for him, not after. But the only way this is going to happen is if one of his criminal trials takes place in January or February. If a verdict isn't in before Super Tuesday, it will be too late for much of the country to make an informed choice about Trump.

And remember, often the "trial start date" merely means the beginning of jury selection, which usually takes days... sometimes weeks. So the actual start of the trial -- Trump sitting at the defendant's table while opening arguments are given -- may be a lot later than the dates on the calendar suggest.

There is (or may be, at any rate) a curveball in the schedule, though. Several of the 18 co-conspirators charged with Trump in Georgia have demanded speedy trials, and their case(s) may begin in late October. Trump has already moved to sever his case from theirs, if they go early, so Trump himself wouldn't actually be on trial yet. But every single one of the defendants is charged with one common crime -- the RICO statute. This means that to convict any of them, Fani Willis is going to have to prove the RICO violation in court. And it took up something like three-fourths of her indictment document, so this will be the meat of all of these trials. The racketeering conspiracy is the same for all of them. So we may get an early view (with cameras in the room) of Willis making exactly the same base case that she will be making against Trump (when his trial rolls around). If a jury convicts any of these early defendants, it will show that Trump is quite likely to be in very deep trouble. That's not an actual conviction of Trump himself, of course, but it might just sway some Republican voters. Voting for Trump knowing he is quite likely to be convicted is different than voting for Trump still confident that he can beat all the raps against him, in other words.

Of course, this all may be just whistling past the graveyard. Trump voters might indeed just not care whether Trump will be convicted before the party's convention or not. The Republican Party might be forced to also not care that they have nominated a convicted felon facing jail time.

Trump, of course, has been whining that these cases are some sort of concerted "election interference" effort. He has even complained that he should have been charged earlier, rather than waiting until the heart of the campaign season. But this is completely wrong. If there were indeed some mastermind behind the scenes plotting to keep Trump out of the White House at all costs, then all of these cases would have been brought a whole lot earlier. If these charges had appeared one year ago, for example, then it is likely that all of Trump's courtroom trials would already be over by now. Either he managed to skate on all of them or his attorneys would be feverishly filing appeals to his convictions right now, but the voters would have had a chance to see it all long before they actually voted. Some other Republican candidate might have risen in the polls if Republican voters had finally realized Trump wasn't going to be the best standard-bearer this time around. Or maybe not -- even if the trials were all over by now, Trump's fanatical MAGA base might have rallied around him even more than they already have. With Trump, anything is possible.

But since we have lost the possibility of seeing Trump in court in 2023, the only way the voters are going to get the clear message that Trump did indeed commit serious crimes and he will indeed be held accountable for them would be to start one of his criminal trials in either late January or early February. March 4th is simply too late. By the time any verdict is reached, over half the states may have voted and Trump could have locked up the nomination. And if one of his trials isn't scheduled earlier than the one announced today, that all sadly looks like the most probable outcome, at this point.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “February, Anyone?”

  1. [1] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    as many times as we repeat the fact that trump is not hitler, the similarities between the two do seem to keep growing.

    submitted for your consideration, "the beer hall putsch trial"

  2. [2] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Don’t you WANT Trump to win the Repug nomination? I sure do!

    Biden against Trump is not only a slam dunk regarding the Presidential election but it’ll likely negatively affect Repug candidates all the way down to Dog Catcher if Trump is polluting the GOP.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    It seems that you’re clutching at straws by expecting that the Trump base actually cares in the least about legal issues etc etc.

    THEY are the same Einsteins who are still waiting for “trickle down” to work for anybody else besides the rich. No wonder that they are prone to buying into pro-Trump propaganda.

  4. [4] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Ya cain’t reach them because they are too far gone…and unwilling to face reality.

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