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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Cameron Joseph

Trump on Trial: the scramble before the storm

White man wearing red hat and white shirt waves
Donald Trump waves to supporters ahead of the final round of LIV Golf Miami at Trump National Doral Golf Club in Doral, Florida, on 7 April 2024. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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On the docket: the scramble before the storm

With less than a week until Donald Trump becomes the first former US president to face a criminal trial, his attorneys are doing everything they can to delay it even longer – with very little to show for their efforts.

On Tuesday, a New York appeals court judge rejected a last-minute lawsuit from Trump’s team that sought to pause the criminal hush-money case from proceeding while his attorneys try to overturn a gag order from presiding judge Juan Merchan.

That ruling came just one day after a different appellate judge rejected a last-minute request from Trump’s lawyers to move his trial from Manhattan because of claims that he couldn’t get a fair jury pool in the city. Both judges took just hours to issue their orders, a sign of how thin were the arguments from Trump’s lawyers. Trump’s team also asked Merchan – for a second time – to recuse himself from the trial. Unsurprisingly, he once again declined.

This follows a longstanding pattern of Trump freaking out as major threats approach, and his team responding with frenetic energy. As Guardian US reporter Hugo Lowell relays from sources close to Trump, he tends to start obsessing over his legal problems in the week before they come to pass.

“Last summer, when Trump was charged by the Fulton county district attorney, Trump only started becoming anxious about his arraignment several days before he was due to travel to Atlanta and be booked at the Rice Street jail,” Lowell told me. “A day or two before he was due to fly to Georgia, the enormity of the moment finally hit him, and Trump railed against the case in frustration.”

As Trump’s team throws everything it can at the wall, Trump has continued to tirade against Merchan – while pushing the bounds of the judge’s gag order.

“Crooked Judge Juan Merchan is not allowing me to talk, is taking away my First Amendment Rights, he’s got me GAGGED, because he doesn’t want the FACTS behind the Gag to come out,” he posted on his social media site Truth Social. “If this Partisan Hack wants to put me in the ‘clink’ for speaking the open and obvious TRUTH, I will gladly become a Modern Day Nelson Mandela - It will be my GREAT HONOR.”

Merchan, meanwhile, has continued to move things along. On Monday, he issued guidance for how the jury will be selected for the trial and released a 42-question form for prospective jurors. They won’t be asked how they feel about Trump – but can be asked about their media habits, whether they’ve ever attended rallies for or opposing Trump, and their political donations. Merchan also made clear that he’s not looking for any more delays, writing that he won’t conduct individual interviews with prospective jurors who claim they’re unable to serve because the step would be “unnecessary, time-consuming, and of no benefit”.

Trump’s legal team has been open about its strategy to delay his multiple trials, with the hopes that they can push them past the November election. That strategy has paid huge dividends in other cases. The US supreme court’s decision to give hearing to his claims that presidential immunity means he can’t be charged for his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss created a significant delay in that case. Trump’s team’s attempts to remove Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis have had a similar effect in Georgia, and Trump-appointed judge Aileen Cannon has seemed more than happy to play along with their delay tactics in his criminal classified documents case in Florida.

But while Trump’s lawyers managed to achieve a delay of a few weeks in his New York hush-money trial (which was originally supposed to begin on 25 March), it appears they’ve run out of options to keep him out of criminal court.

A programming note: As the trial begins next week, we’ll be sending you more regular coverage of the proceedings, starting with a step-back look at what it all means next Monday. Victoria Bekiempis will be at the court for us every day, and Lauren Aratani, Sam Levine, Hugo Lowell and the rest of our team will be helping you keep on top of all the major developments on a near-daily basis.

Sidebar: Cannon fodder

In a remarkable court filing, justice department special counsel Jack Smith showed clear frustration with Judge Aileen Cannon over her willingness to entertain what he called a “fundamentally flawed legal premise”. Trump’s attorneys have argued that the Presidential Records Act allowed him to keep classified documents after leaving office. Smith wrote that if Cannon allowed Trump to cite that interpretation of the law his defense, he would appeal to a higher court.

“That legal premise is wrong, and a jury instruction … that reflects that premise would distort the trial,” he wrote.

Cannon, a Trump appointee who has repeatedly entertained the most brazen defenses from Trump’s legal team and seemingly played along with their delay strategy, responded with fury on Thursday.

She issued an order that rejected Trump’s motion to toss out the case based on his team’s misrepresentation of the Presidential Records Act. But she refused to go along with Smith’s demand that she bar Trump’s team from using it as a defense when the case goes to trial, calling it “unprecedented and unjust”.


• Fulton county prosecutors asked a Georgia appeals court on Monday to reject Trump’s request to overturn Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis to continue prosecuting Trump’s case. If the appeals court reverses McAfee and removes Willis, Trump’s Georgia election interference case would be all but dead.

• McAfee rejected a request from Trump and his co-defendants that he toss out the case on first amendment grounds, writing: “Even core political speech addressing matters of public concern is not impenetrable from prosecution if allegedly used to further criminal activity.” Attorneys for Trump and his co-defendants filed a motion to appeal the order on Monday.

• As of Tuesday, Trump’s social media company lost one-third of its value on the stock market in a week as an initial surge in trading withered, dropping the value of Trump’s personal stake in the company to under $3bn, from a peak of $6bn.

• Fifteen prominent historians filed an amicus brief with the US supreme court ahead of its 25 April oral arguments countering Trump’s claim that he is immune to criminal prosecution for acts committed as president, arguing that “no plausible historical case supports” the claim.

Judge Cannon set a 12 April hearing for arguments from Trump’s two Florida trial co-defendants, valet Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira, that seek to dismiss the obstruction of justice charges against them.

What’s next

12 April Cannon’s hearing with attorneys for Nauta and Oliveira in Trump’s classified documents case.

15 April Trump’s New York hush-money criminal trial begins with jury selection.

25 April The US supreme court will hear oral arguments for Trump’s claim that presidential immunity means his DC criminal trial should be dismissed.

Have any questions about Trump’s trials? Please send them our way at:

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