Trump is just days away from his first criminal trial after his latest legal tactic failed.

Photo of author


Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on April 2, 2024 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.


Donald Trump is running out of time in his latest attempt to avoid the historic stigma of being the first former president to face criminal trial next week.

The presumptive Republican nominee suffered another court defeat Monday in an attempt to delay his hush money trial and get him out of Manhattan. His latest legal defeat brings him – and the nation – to the threshold of a divisive spectacle that will further strain the political and judicial systems and could have an unpredictable impact on the November elections.

This case, which stems from payments to an adult film actress before the 2016 election, is just one of four criminal cases against the former president. He has pleaded not guilty in all cases against him.

As his legal options narrow, Trump’s attacks on the judge in the New York case and those involved in his other impending trials and his wild claims that he is a victim of political persecution are becoming increasingly extreme. In an obscure Truth Social post over the weekend, Trump wondered how many “corrupt” judges he would have to “put up with before someone intervenes.” And in a fundraising email, the former president criticized his “sham trial” and warned that “all hell will break loose” unless he receives a new injection of financial support. Judge Juan Merchán, who will preside over the case, last week extended a gag order against Trump after he named the judge’s daughter and attacked her on social media. Now the former president is complaining on his Truth Social network that Merchan is “taking away my First Amendment rights.”

Trump’s escalating efforts to delegitimize the trial in New York before it begins came as CNN obtained the case’s jury questionnaire, which reflects the unusual political context of this trial. Potential jurors will be asked where they get their news, if they have been to a Trump rally and if they have been a member of an extremist group like the Proud Boys. They will also be asked about their feelings toward the former president, but not about which political party they belong to or who they voted for.

This is consistent with attempts before all trials to ensure that jurors can be fair and impartial in judging a case based on the evidence and not on their opinions or political biases. Prosecutors in the case are not trying to prove that a 2016 payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet was illegal. Rather, they will tell jurors that the former president falsified business records to cover them up in an attempt to deceive voters before the 2016 election. But some critics of the case consider the idea that this is electoral interference overblown. And if there is one of the four criminal trials that Trump would prefer to happen first, it is this one.

Delays in multiple cases surrounding Trump are often due to him exercising his rights as a defendant to exhaust the full scope of his right to appeal. But there is a clear tendency to use frivolous legal challenges to slow the path to trials. With just four days left until the trial begins in New York, the chances of it being further delayed are fading quickly. Still, Trump is one of the most prolific litigators in modern history, and given the political incentives to evade responsibility, further far-reaching legal challenges cannot be ruled out.

If he cannot delay the opening of the trial on April 15, he will spend four days a week confined to a courtroom, leaving the election campaign open to his rival, President Joe Biden. But the former president attempted to mitigate one of his key vulnerabilities in the race on Monday, declaring that abortion – a potentially defining issue in the general election – should be left to the states. Biden was having none of that, saying his predecessor couldn’t be trusted not to sign a federal ban if Congress ever passed it, adding at a fundraiser in Chicago: “Trump is in trouble and he knows it.” . He worries that voters will hold him accountable.”

In Washington, special counsel Jack Smith filed his latest brief with the Supreme Court on Monday, designed to derail Trump’s sweeping claim to presidential immunity that has delayed the start of his federal election interference trial. Trump argues that the office of the presidency would be neutralized if its occupants could face criminal prosecution for their actions once they leave office. But Smith rejected this argument, which would implicitly mean that presidents have unlimited power.

“The effective functioning of the presidency does not require that a former president be immune from liability for these alleged violations of federal criminal law,” Smith wrote. “To the contrary, a fundamental principle of our constitutional order is that no person is above the law, including the president.”

Smith also sought to head off another Trump tactic: a suggestion to the Supreme Court that the justices could send the case back to lower courts for further arguments if they determine that a president enjoys only partial immunity. Such a move would delay the trial for many months, certainly until after the election. If he is re-elected, Trump would regain presidential powers that would allow him to stall or even completely end the federal case against him. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on April 25 and a decision is expected in July.

Smith’s attempts to get the former president before a jury are also being thwarted in Florida, where many legal scholars have accused Trump-appointed judge Aileen Cannon of delaying the upcoming trial over the former president’s hoarding of classified documents.

Trump is making a new effort to hinder his election interference trial in Georgia, part of his ongoing efforts to try to prevent the other cases in which he has been charged from moving forward before the November election. Trump’s lawyers want the state appeals court to rule that his effort to pressure local officials to overturn his 2020 election loss was simply an exercise of his free speech. “There is no democracy without robust and uninhibited freedom of speech,” Trump lawyer Steve Sadow said in a statement.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee already refused to dismiss the case on the grounds that Trump’s actions protected free speech. Trump’s critics are likely to see his latest tactic as a typically obtuse counterfactual argument that he was not trying to destroy democracy but save it.

The key decision in the New York case on Monday centered on a claim by the former Republican president’s lawyers that their client cannot get a fair trial in the city where he became famous, and which is overwhelmingly liberal. Associate Judge Lizbeth González on Monday denied the motion to stop the trial while the issue is considered and said there would be no further arguments on the issue.

Trump’s strategy is not new: He has previously made similar claims about the fairness of being tried in Washington, DC, another liberal city. However, prosecutors typically file charges in a jurisdiction where the alleged crime took place. And if taken to their logical extremes, the former president’s arguments would mean that a political figure could only be tried in a place where a potential jury would be filled with people likely to vote for him. Such a scenario would politicize the entire legal system and threaten the principle that everyone is equal before the law, even and especially former and possibly future presidents.

During his sweeping Republican primary campaign, Trump was effective in capitalizing on his four indictments, wielding the idea that he was a victim of politicized justice to rally the Republican base around him and squeeze his rivals.

One of the biggest questions of this campaign will be whether the reality of an impeached president has a similar impact on the general electorate or whether it will spark a backlash against Trump, especially if he is found guilty.

Leave a comment