Skip to main content

Federal judge sets trial date for Donald Trump in Jan. 6 election interference case


FILE – Former President Donald Trump steps off his plane as he arrives at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Donald Trump, the twice-impeached, quadruply-indicted single term former president is poised to go on trial on March 4, 2024, to face charges that he corruptly conspired to subvert the results of the 2020 election in the lead up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

When issuing the decision from the bench at the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan was clear that neither the special counsel’s proposed trial start date of Jan. 4, 2024, nor Trump’s proposed date of April 2026 were sufficient.

Trump would certainly need time to prepare beyond what prosecutors allotted, Chutkan agreed with the defense, but she was emphatic: former president or no, reasonable order and equitable treatment would prevail.

Offering a comparison, Chutkan noted that “Trump, like any other defendant will have to make the trial date work regardless of his schedule.”

If a professional athlete were to come before the court, it would be “inappropriate,” she said, to set the trial date based on her game schedule. Setting a date beyond March could also be problematic because the more time that passes, the more witness memory fades and availability threatens to shrink.

Trump’s attorney John Lauro was emphatic Monday that anything short of April 2026 would be a huge hindrance to the former president’s right to a fair trial. Chutkan was not swayed.

Though she acknowledged that the defendant himself is a former president and this may make him unique, the actual charges he faces are not particularly legally complex or nuanced .

Trump faces criminal indictments — and a civil case — in multiple venues beyond Washington that include New York, Georgia, and Florida. With the March 4 date set Monday, it would likely mean that a verdict will come as Trump is in the throes of his 2024 presidential campaign. He faces a whopping 91 criminal counts overall.

Lauro argued Monday that setting a trial date sooner than April 2026 was also impossible due to the voluminous records making up discovery — namely, some 11.5 million pages in evidence already remitted to the defense.

Chutkan pressed prosecutor Molly Gaston about this on Monday. Discovery, Gaston said, is mostly complete and so far the government has made five productions to the defense with millions of pages in the mix.

But mere page numbers are not the best metric to understand what is included in discovery.

More than 3 million of those pages are records directly associated with Trump’s campaign and Trump-related political action committees. There are millions of duplicative pages from the U.S. Secret Service and there are at least 102,000 pages from the National Archives that Trump’s counsel has already reviewed for privilege concerns. There are another 5 million pages that contain grand jury transcripts and accompanying exhibits that Trump’s legal team already has in its possession.

Gaston told Chutkan there were approximately 58,000 pages featuring grand jury witness interviews but that these were so voluminous because they were transcripts from audio recorded sessions. This is a feature that would make it easier for the defense to prepare, not more difficult, Gaston argued.

There are also at least 27,000 pages included in discovery that are definitively open source materials, like Trump’s social media posts or statements made through the campaign.

And all of this is electronically searchable.

Listening to the prosecutors from the bench, a bright blue blouse peeking from beneath her dark black robe, Chutkan noted that the government went beyond its “normal obligations” to expedite review. When the judge asked Lauro why none of this seemed to be sufficient for the defense, Lauro grew emotional, his voice high pitched and his words clear but rushed.

Calling the proceedings a “show trial” and lamenting that he and Todd Blanche — and defense attorney Greg Singer — still “have to do our job as defense lawyers,” Lauro suggested the proposed timeframe by prosecutors was “absurd.”

He also called the suggestion by prosecutors a “violation of their oath to justice.”

“Let’s take the temperature down here,” Chutkan remarked, raising her hand slightly at one point to slow Lauro’s rapid-fire approach.

“There is a lot you may personally need to eyeball. But you, at the first cut, personally, are not going to review 12 million pages … some of those documents are going to be reviewed electronically,” Chutkan said.

Typically, most lawyers prepare for trial by extensive use of paralegals and other aides and through regular use of macro and micro search functions that can scan through hundreds of documents.

Chutkan also noted to Lauro that Trump is a unique defendant in that he has come to the table with four lawyers of record. This equates to a veritable army of eyes, ears and hands to do reviewing, sorting and organizing. And this is something, Chutkan noted, not available to the typical criminal defendant.

“We have to ensure the system works for every American,” Lauro insisted. “He should not be treated any different … we cannot be ready under the circumstances of this case until we have a reasonable amount of time under the system of justice.”

Once back up at the podium, Gaston, the prosecutor, was plain with Chutkan, telling her that she believed Lauro avoided answering her exact question of how much time was needed for review because he didn’t want to admit that search tools now available to lawyers in modern criminal trials means he would be ready a lot earlier than April 2026.

She was also quick to point out that just one night after Trump’s indictment in D.C., Lauro hit the airwaves and seemed to suggest he was more than prepared. Lauro, she reminded, said he had read former Vice President Mike Pence’s book twice and knew what witnesses he would call. He said openly that he knew what motions he would raise. He claimed the indictment was a “regurgitation” of the final public report by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The best way to find out if the defense can meet the standards for trial preparation is to set a schedule first and see if those deadlines can be met, Gaston argued.

There is not a huge amount of classified material expected to be used at this trial, but sensitivities will be considered. Chutkan issued an order on Aug. 22 deeming certain protective measures remain in place regarding any classified or potentially classified materials that might surface as the case hurtles toward trial. Importantly, these rules won’t just apply to Trump. His lawyers will also be subject to terms now governing sensitive records, documents or other related correspondence in evidence.

Any classified information the government provides to Trump or his team, the order expressly states, is to be used “solely” for the preparation of his defense and defense attorneys will only have permission to review classified records if they have received the necessary clearance for a given document, received permission from the Justice Department or if permission is granted through a separate court order as necessary.

“The defense may not disclose or cause to be disclosed in connection with this case any information known or reasonably known to be classified except as otherwise provided in this order,” Chutkan wrote.

Prosecutor Thomas Windom said Monday that are just five to ten non-duplicative documents totaling less than 100 pages that contain classified materials. One of the records is a transcript from a witness that is 125 pages long but Windom noted it wouldn’t be used in the government’s case-in-chief.

Trump was indicted in Washington on four felony counts related to Jan. 6 including three charges of conspiracy: to defraud the U.S., to obstruct an official proceeding, and to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any state, territory, commonwealth, possession, or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” He faces a fourth count for obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding.

“I take seriously the request that he be treated like any other defendant and I intend to do so … but I also want to point out that most defendants do not receive this organized summary of discovery … nonetheless, Jan. 2, 2024, does not give [the defense] enough time to prepare,” Chutkan said. “On the other hand, the defense’s proposed date of April 2026 is far beyond what is necessary. The offenses given rise to in this case occcured at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. To try it five years later poses a real danger that witnesses could become unavailable [or that their] memory will fade.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: