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What to know about the timing of Donald Trump’s election interference trial

<i>Leah Millis/Reuters/File via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Former President Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association (NRA) Presidential Forum at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center
Leah Millis/Reuters/File via CNN Newsource
Former President Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association (NRA) Presidential Forum at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center

Analysis by Katelyn Polantz and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump’s trial in his election interference case in Washington, DC, is indefinitely postponed during ongoing appeals about presidential immunity.

But the judge who will oversee the trial has hinted at a quick timetable once the case returns to her jurisdiction. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan has suggested in the past that there are about three months left of pre-trial work to be done before a trial could start.

Chutkan originally set the trial to begin on March 4 but delayed that date until the matter of whether Trump should be immune from prosecution is settled by appeals courts. The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the issue in April and is expected to issue a ruling by the end of the term in June.

The judge made clear in her order delaying the March trial date that she would revisit the timetable when those appeals are settled, and only then will new deadlines or trial dates be made official.

“If jurisdiction is returned to this court, it will – consistent with its duty to ensure both a speedy trial and fairness for all parties – consider at that time whether to retain or continue the dates of any still-future deadlines and proceedings, including the trial scheduled for March 4, 2024,” she wrote in that order.

Who decides when a trial happens?

This is entirely up to the courts. The judge overseeing the trial can take into consideration arguments from prosecutors and defense teams about when a trial can happen, but it’s the judge’s call at the end of the day.

Would Election Day put a fall trial on hold?

Almost certainly no. Nothing on a political calendar would block a trial from happening.

Trump’s team has tried to claim that the cases against him are “election interference” and repeatedly argued in court he should not face a jury while he is campaigning for president, but multiple judges overseeing his cases have rejected this idea.

Chutkan previously told Trump’s lawyers his desire to conduct a campaign would have to yield in some ways to the needs of the justice system. She called his campaign a “day job” at an early hearing.

Could Trump still go to trial on federal 2020 election charges before the election?

Yes. It’s possible that if the Supreme Court were to green-light a trial by the end of the court’s term in June, Trump would go to trial before the election. In that scenario, Chutkan could set the trial for a few weeks out once the immunity question is resolved. She has already worked through many of the pretrial issues in the case, with only a few still in limbo while the appeals have been ongoing.

Trump has no other ability to muster additional appeals to slow down this case before trial. And with only four counts against him as a sole defendant, it wouldn’t be out of line for the DC District Court to hold Trump’s trial about a year after he was initially charged, as the court does with many of its criminal defendants.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Trump on presidential immunity, however, the case against him could be dismissed.

Would the Justice Department allow a verdict to come days before an election?

As Merrick Garland told CNN’s Evan Perez this winter, that would be in the hands of the judge and jury.

The Justice Department has an internal policy that it does not take overt investigative steps that could influence an election within 60 days of the vote.

But that policy is only about prosecutors’ own actions – and not a verdict from a jury in a courtroom.

The regulations wouldn’t prevent a judge from getting a jury verdict in any of the Trump criminal cases even days before November 5.

A verdict ultimately wouldn’t fundamentally change what’s known of a case – the sort of developments the DOJ tries to preclude from popping up too close to an election. The criminal allegations Trump faces have all been public since 2023.

Trump’s team sees an opening of having a trial very close to the election, if he must, as a way to motivate his voters who believe he is being victimized by the system.

Can two trials take place at the same time?

There are no rules that appear to prevent this, but this essentially doesn’t happen.

Trump certainly wouldn’t want it to, because he is not eager to go to trial and is trying to delay as many of his cases as he can.

As Judge Juan Merchan on his New York hush money case pointed out, “Trump does have an absolute right to be present in all of his criminal trials.”

“It’s an important right, and one that he has every right to certainly take advantage of. He’s not going to be in more than one criminal trial at the same time,” the judge said.

Right now, the only Trump trial with a solidified calendar is his hush money records falsification case in Manhattan.

A court hearing on Friday in Trump’s classified documents criminal case in Florida is set to revisit the trial schedule there, which Trump’s team is hoping to exploit to prevent that trial and other trials this summer.

Would Trump have to be physically present for his trial?

Federal rules set it up so that defendants have a right to be present for all proceedings where they are charged, including from start to finish of their trials.

However, there are some exceptions where a defendant wouldn’t need to be present during the trial. Those include being removed from the courtroom by the judge for being disruptive, or for voluntarily choosing not to show up for some days once the trial begins.

Basically, Trump could skip even some days of trial if he wanted.

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