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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Cameron Joseph

Supreme Court hands Trump a gift

The US supreme court in Washington DC.
The US supreme court in Washington DC. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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On the docket: a supreme court bombshell

The US supreme court announced on Wednesday evening that it will consider Trump’s claim of presidential immunity after an appeals court ruled against him, creating a delay that will either push the DC criminal trial over Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss late into the 2024 presidential election – or derail the case entirely.

The court had the option of rejecting Trump’s appeal without hearing the arguments. Instead, it set oral arguments for the week of 22 April. That means even if the justices come to a speedy decision – say, in early May – the trial would be pushed off until mid-summer at the earliest. That might not be enough time to actually hold the trial before the election, and plays right into Trump’s explicit legal strategy of trying to delay his criminal trials.

The court will consider whether, and to what extent, “a former president enjoys presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office”.

Lower-court judges have unanimously ruled against Trump, writing withering opinions of his arguments; legal observers widely expect that the US supreme court, which has a six to three conservative majority, will agree. The issue is the timeline.

The DC trial is on hold until the justices issue a ruling – and as the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell wrote on Wednesday, the best estimate of the trial date will come “by adding 87 days to the date of the supreme court’s final decision”.

By those calculations, even if the court issues a rapid decision in early May, the case may not be ready for trial until August.

But that assumes they move that fast. The supreme court’s term doesn’t end until early July, and if they don’t issue a decision until then it would probably prevent the trial from happening at all before the election since that would set things up for early October, right before the November vote. The trial is expected to last at least a month, and it’s unclear whether the US Department of Justice will decide its unofficial “60-day rule” against bringing politically charged cases too close to an election applies in this case.

If Trump wins the election, he’ll have enough executive authority to make the case go away.

The Republican national convention, where Trump will probably be nominated by the GOP as their presidential candidate, is set for 15-18 July. The election itself will be on 5 November. If the trial happens, it’ll land between those dates – but it just might not happen at all.

Sidebar: Trump’s cash crunch

A judge shot down a request from Trump’s attorneys to let him put up a bond for just $100m of the more than $450m he owes from the verdict in his New York business fraud trial on Wednesday – but lifted the verdict’s penalty that would prevent him from applying for loans from New York banks in order to cover that bond.

Trump’s attorneys had earlier told the court that, essentially, he doesn’t have the cash to cover the entire sum and suggested he might be forced to sell some of his real estate properties to raise the money.

Trump has until late March to try to secure a stay that would pause interest from accruing at nearly $115,000 a day while he appeals.

Trump would receive an automatic stay if he were to put up money, assets (like some of his New York real estate), or an appeal bond covering what he owes. The appeals court could also grant a stay with a bond for a lower amount – which his team is now requesting.

What’s next: a big Friday

A pair of key hearings scheduled for Friday could go a long way in determining the future of two of Trump’s main criminal cases.

In Trump’s Florida classified documents case, Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled a 10am EST hearing to consider deadlines that could delay her proposed 20 May trial date.

Cannon ruled on Wednesday that Trump couldn’t get his hands on a filing submitted by special counsel prosecutors that detailed their reasons for wanting to redact some of the classified documents – though much of her ruling indicated that she was sympathetic to Trump’s lawyers’ arguments.

And, in Trump’s Georgia criminal election interference case, Judge Scott McAfee has scheduled an afternoon hearing to continue the considerations of whether Fani Willis and Nathan Wade should be allowed to remain on the case. At issue: whether their romantic relationship marks a conflict of interest (and whether a lower standard, of appearance of impropriety, should be applied). If he rules that they must be removed, that could completely derail this criminal prosecution, putting it on ice indefinitely.

During a Tuesday hearing, attorneys for Trump and his co-defendants failed to get their star witness, Wade’s former divorce lawyer Terrence Bradley, to repeat under oath what he had previously alleged in private conversations, that Willis began her romantic relationship with Wade before she hired him as special prosecutor.

Friday’s hearing will probably include the final arguments on the issue from Willis’s team as well as Trump’s and his co-defendants’, before McAfee makes his decision.


On Wednesday, an Illinois state judge ruled that Trump should not appear on Illinois’s Republican presidential primary ballot because he violated the anti-insurrection clause of the US constitution’s 14th amendment, but delayed her ruling from taking effect. The US supreme court is expected to rule soon on whether states can disqualify Trump from the ballot.

In Trump’s pending New York hush-money criminal trial, prosecutors filed a request for a gag order to bar former president Donald Trump from attacking potential witnesses and others involved in the case. The gag order request from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s office to Judge Juan Merchan seeks to bar Trump from attacking potential trial witnesses, jurors, and his and Merchan’s staff while excluding the prosecutor and the judge themselves from the order.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over Trump’s New York business fraud civil trial, was sent an envelope containing white powder that arrived at the courthouse on Wednesday, prompting an emergency response from fire and police officials. Donald Trump Jr, one of the defendants in the trial, also received an envelope containing a death threat and white powder earlier this week.

Wisconsin’s bipartisan state ethics commission has recommended felony charges against Trump’s Save America Joint Fundraising Committee for allegedly attempting to skirt campaign finance limits in a case where local Trump allies tried to defeat the Wisconsin assembly speaker, Robin Vos, who has been critical of Trump, in a primary. The commission alleges Adam Steen, Vos’s Trump-endorsed primary challenger, coordinated with state Republican party chapters to evade Wisconsin’s $1,000 limit on individual campaign donations by having individuals funnel earmarked donations through the county parties, which face no limits on campaign spending.

Calendar crunch

The US supreme court still hasn’t released an opinion on whether Colorado courts were within their rights in determining that Trump should be barred from appearing as a candidate under section three of the US constitution’s 14th amendment. It appears that there won’t be a ruling before Colorado holds its Republican presidential primary next Tuesday. The court’s justices indicated strongly during oral arguments in early February that they were likely to rule that they would overturn the Colorado court’s decision, which has been put on pause until they rule, leaving Trump on the ballot.

Cronies & casualties

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’s attempts to get his criminal charges moved from Georgia to federal court hit another wall on Wednesday, as judges on the 11th circuit of appeals denied his request for the entire court to rehear his appeal of an earlier decision against him. The US supreme court is his last chance in his long-shot effort.

Former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro filed an emergency motion to try to keep from having to begin his prison sentence almost immediately after being convicted of contempt of Congress for flouting a subpoena from the House January 6 select committee and sentenced to four months behind bars. Navarro is expected to have to begin serving his sentence imminently.

Former justice department lawyer Jeff Clark, who is facing disbarment from the DC bar for his role in Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, lost his bid to keep other Trump administration officials, including former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, and former White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin, from testifying in the proceedings. The bar association disciplinary panel found that “executive privilege” did not apply in the case.

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