Opinion: A huge boon for Trump

Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 25 books, including the forthcoming book, “Our Nation at Risk: Election Integrity as a National Security Issue.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

While former President Donald Trump was convicted by a Manhattan jury on 34 charges of falsifying business records last week, the remaining three criminal cases against him are unlikely to be resolved before Election Day — a huge boon for Trump’s political future.

Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who is presiding over the classified documents case in Florida, has made it much less likely that a decision in that case will be reached before November 5.

In a series of unusual moves, Cannon has allowed third-party groups unaffiliated with the case to argue in court, delayed some hearings without setting a new date, and scheduled additional ones, including one regarding a gag order request to limit Trump’s rhetoric about law enforcement. She also allotted more time to hear arguments about Trump’s request to declare special counsel Jack Smith’s appointment invalid.

Trump also scored a huge victory this week with the election subversion case in Georgia put on hold until a panel of judges rules on whether to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis because of her relationship with Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade.

There have also been serious delays in the federal election interference case, as the Supreme Court still has to make a decision about Trump’s claims of presidential immunity. The trial date can’t be set by Judge Tanya Chutkan until after SCOTUS reaches a decision, and the court’s decision might leave room for further delays.

This would be hugely beneficial for Trump. While a delay takes away the chance that Trump might vindicated with a finding of innocence, it also means he won’t have to contend with the blowback from another potential conviction. Instead, delays allow Trump to continue railing against the justice system while maintaining the status quo, which keeps him ahead in most swing states.

Of course, without verdicts in the remaining three cases, voters will have less definitive information on which to base their decisions come November. And if Trump is elected again, he could use his presidential powers to pardon himself — at least in the federal cases.

Although many observers believe the New York hush money case was the least serious of all the criminal cases against Trump, the jury’s decision struck a nerve. Republicans were quick to rally around the president, but early polls show that his conviction for falsifying business records might have made a dent in his political standing. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll, Trump’s three-point lead over Biden before the verdict fell to just one point after the conviction.

While these numbers are not hugely significant, small shifts in the electorate could be pivotal in the handful of swing states where the election will be decided. Should courts reach guilty verdicts in the federal election interference or classified documents cases, the political reverberations, particularly among moderate and independent voters, could be even more consequential.

But accountability has proven extremely difficult to achieve in the era of Trump. Congress was unable to fulfill this goal through impeachment, as Republicans created a firewall around him. News outlets have struggled to push back against the deluge of Trump’s lies and misleading claims. While the House select committee made a convincing case, compiling testimony and evidence accusing Trump of trying to overturn the election on January 6, 2021, it was not immune to partisan mudslinging. After Trump’s presidency, the courts have offered the best and last hope.

For now, it seems that accountability will have to wait, as the remaining three criminal cases against Trump will likely remain in limbo until long after November 5.

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