OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
The federal judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s ‘election interference’ trial in Washington, D.C., has suffered yet another setback as it looks increasingly unlikely that her March trial date will stand.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan initially scheduled the start of proceedings for March 4. Trump has entered a plea of not guilty to four charges in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation.
Currently, the case is on hold pending a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on whether Trump should be granted immunity from prosecution due to the charges against him being connected to his term in office.
“However, there is still no real indication from the appeals court as to when it will decide on whether presidential immunity can be applied to Trump in this case. A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had legal arguments on the immunity defense on January 9 and were highly skeptical of the former president’s claims,” Newsweek reports.
Federal prosecutors have argued that engaging in criminal activities does not fall within the scope of a president’s official duties. Consequently, Trump cannot invoke absolute immunity to have the case dismissed, they say.
Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance wrote on her blog, Civil Discourse: “The clock continues to tick, making it all but impossible for Judge Chutkan’s March 5 trial date in the Special Counsel’s January 6 prosecution to hold up.”
Jordan Rubin, a legal reporter and former prosecutor, noted in an MSNBC column: “While some observers are eager for a ruling as soon as possible to avoid further delay of Trump’s federal election interference trial, which technically is set to start March 4, whether the opinion takes weeks instead of days isn’t the judges’ greatest concern.”
In addition, Chutkan herself has said that the March 4 date may have to be pushed back somewhat depending on how quickly the immunity issue can be resolved. Trump’s legal team will likely seek a U.S. Supreme Court decision if the appeals panel rules the immunity protection does not apply.
Trump has argued that he did nothing wrong. A speech he gave on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot encouraged supporters to “march peacefully” to the Capitol to voice opposition to certifying the election for Joe Biden. At some point, however, some in the crowd grew unruly and began battling with Capitol Police before some made their way into the building itself.
Earlier this week, Chutkan placed partial restrictions on sSmith’s actions in the alleged election interference case after Trump’s legal team filed a motion asking her to hold Smith in contempt for continuing to submit documents despite the judge issuing a stay order in December.
Despite Chutkan’s Dec. 13 order that stayed proceedings at the federal court level, Trump’s legal team said in its filing that Smith’s office served him with 4,000 pages of “additional discovery” on Dec. 17, including what the prosecutors’ production letter described as “several hundred video and audio recordings.”
Trump’s legal team has asked for the withdrawal of all of Smith’s discovery requests and requested that prosecutors be obligated to seek court permission before submitting any further filings “to ensure that any further attempts to violate the Stay Order will be summarily denied.”
Chutkan, in her ruling, agreed with Trump’s team.
“The court agrees … diligent defense counsel will need to conduct a preliminary review of each substantive motion the Government files in order to know whether they need to take further action. While that is not a major burden, it is a cognizable one,” she wrote.
“Accordingly, the court will adopt Defendant’s recommendation that the parties be forbidden from filing any further substantive pretrial motions without first seeking leave from the court,” she wrote.