On Monday, there was a split screen of two high-stakes hearings. Both hearings were related to Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, and both will have massive ramifications for Trump, his co-defendants, and the country.
In DC, Donald Trump was dealt a huge loss. US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan heard arguments from Special Counsel prosecutors and Trump’s defense lawyers about their proposed trial dates for the federal election subversion case. The hearing got so heated that Judge Chutkan had to tell Trump’s defense to "take the temperature down" twice. The Trump team’s bombast didn’t help their cause. Judge Chutkan set a trial date for March 4, 2024. This is one day before Super Tuesday and three weeks before Trump’s Hush Money trial scheduled for March 25, 2024.
In Georgia, the ruling has yet to be issued, but the hearing did not go well for Team MAGA. Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sought to move Fulton County’s 2020 election subversion case to federal court. Fulton County DA Fani Willis is prosecuting the case, which involves a 41-count indictment, including a RICO charge, targeting 19 co-defendants, including Meadows and Trump. With nearly four hours of surprise testimony from Mark Meadows and Fani Willis laying out her case with testimony from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Monday’s hearing was a mini-trial glimpse into what’s to come.
US District Court Judge Steve Jones heard all the testimony and didn’t rule from the bench but said he would “as fast as possible.” Whatever the result, it will have implications for the other 18 co-defendants, including Donald Trump.
The hearings greatly impact how these 2020 election subversion cases will be prosecuted. The DC case, in particular, will have an enormous impact on the 2024 campaign season, as Donald Trump will be compelled to jump between the courthouse and the campaign trail.
Let’s break down these hearings, their rulings (potential outcomes in the case of Georgia), and their impact.
DC Hearing: Federal Election Subversion Case
No cameras were allowed in this hearing, so we had to rely on journalists in the courtroom, like The Independent’s Andrew Feinberg.
Judge Chutkan began the hearing by rebuffing both the prosecution’s proposed date, January 2024, and the defense’s absurd proposed date of April 2026. She then explained that justice should be the first consideration, not the defendant’s schedule.
“Setting a trial date does not depend and should not depend on the defendant’s personal and professional obligations. Mr. Trump, like any defendant, will have to make the trial date work regardless of his schedule,” Chutkan said. Notably, she referred to Trump as "Mr Trump" once again, further highlighting her point that Trump should be treated like any defendant.
Prosecutor Molly Gaston outlined how they’ve structured the millions of pages of documents to expedite discovery, and Judge Chutkan agreed. Gaston also cited Trump’s incendiary social media posts as a reason to accelerate the trial schedule. Judge Chutkan then called on Trump’s defense attorney, John Lauro, who decided to launch into an angry screed.
“We need adequate time to prepare. For the government to suggest I can do that in four months is an outrage," Lauro exclaimed. Lauro was getting louder, nearly yelling at this point, according to multiple reporters in the courtroom. "Mr Trump – President Trump – is entitled to a fair trial. This is a request for a show trial, not a speedy trial!"
Judge Chutkan urged Lauro to "take the temperature down a bit," but Lauro continued. Chutkan interjected again.
"Mr Lauro, as I said, let’s take the temperature down... I understand Mr Trump is presumed innocent, as is every defendant... Let’s not overlook the fact that Mr. Trump has considerable resources that every defendant does not usually have."
Lauro replied: "Never in the history of the United States have we seen a case of this magnitude go to trial in four months."
"I understand, Mr Lauro," Judge Chutkan responded. "But you’re not going to get two more years. This is not going to trial in 2026."
After some more back and forth and a brief recess, Judge Chutkan set the trial date for March 4, 2024. She said she had already spoken to Judge Juan Merchan, overseeing the New York Hush Money case, and let him know that this case could bleed into his trial on March 25. Judge Chutkan said she’ll be watching for any efforts to "poison" the jury pool, clearly indicating if Trump continues to attack this process on social media, it will only continue to backfire legally.
Trump’s lawyer John Lauro responded to the ruling with a statement that should concern Donald Trump: "We will certainly abide by your honor’s ruling, as we must. We will not be able to provide adequate representation... the trial date will deny President Trump the opportunity to have effective assistance of counsel."
This March 4, 2024, trial date has legal and political ramifications. It adds yet another case Trump’s lawyers will have to be prepared to contend with as Trump campaigns for president. The road to election day is paved with trials: The Trump Organization fraud trial is in October 2023; the second E Jean Carroll defamation trial is in January 2024; the Hush Money trial is currently scheduled for March 25, 2024; and the classified document trial is scheduled for May 20, 2024.
Politically, this trial date throws an enormous wrench into the GOP primary season. Just one day before Super Tuesday, one of the most important days in our democratic process, Donald Trump is set to go to trial for his attack on that same democratic process. One day before they hit the polls, voters will be reminded of January 6 and Trump’s mountain of legal troubles. It may mobilize Trump’s die-hard supporters, but it could also motivate Republican voters concerned about his electability to maybe vote for an alternative.
How will the public perceive this March 4, 2024 trial date? We already have some polling that gives us some clues. An August 25 Politico/Ipsos poll found that 59% of Americans feel the election subversion trial should happen before the GOP primary, and 61% feel this case should go to trial before the general election. Judge Chutkan’s date appears to be within the time frame Americans want.
A conviction for crimes this serious in the middle of the GOP primary could have unpredictable impacts. Republican voters might say now that they back Trump, but when the reality sets in, and if a conviction lands, they could behave differently. A lot can change in six months.
Georgia Hearing: Fulton County Election Subversion Case
No cameras or phones were allowed in this hearing, so we had to rely on reporters on the ground in Fulton County to relay developments from this hearing. In a shock to many, Meadows showed up and testified at length.
The crux of Mark Meadows’s motion to move his Fulton County prosecution to federal court is an argument that the actions outlined in the indictment were part of his duties as Chief of Staff. He claimed that the meetings he organized and took part in, texts he sent, and an observation of an audit in Cobb County, Georgia, were just him performing his official duties as the Chief of Staff. According to Meadows’s argument, this means that his Fulton County case should be prosecuted in federal court.
"I don’t know that I did anything that was outside of my role as chief of staff," Meadows told the court.
Meadows’s choice to testify came at a cost – his claims were met with tough cross-examination. The problem for Meadows is that his actions included alleged crimes, like the January 2, 2021, phone call to urge Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" 11,780 votes to overturn Biden’s win. Prosecutor Anna Cross hammered this point in cross-examination. Meadows said he didn’t know whether the Trump attorneys on the call were Trump’s campaign attorneys or Trump’s personal lawyers. The prosecutor asked Meadows why he wanted them on the call if he didn’t know their roles. Judge Jones reportedly shook his head at his moment.
These actions were clearly not performed in a federal capacity; they were campaign activities in service of Donald Trump’s corrupt scheme to overturn the 2020 election. If anything, these actions would violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from participating in campaign activities in their official capacity. While on the stand, Meadows claimed the Hatch Act does apply to the Chief of Staff but that he didn’t believe his actions violated it. DA Willis cited the Hatch Act in her court filings as a law showcasing that the kind of actions Meadows was taking were not permitted.
The defense rested its case, and the prosecution called Brad Raffensperger to testify. Raffensperger claimed that Meadows’s efforts to reach him came long before the January 2 call, as far back as November 2020. Raffensperger said, “Outreach to that extent was extraordinary.” The prosecution played a clip of the January 2 call. Under questioning, Raffensperger noted that no DOJ or White House Counsel was on the call, stating, "I thought that it was a campaign call." That was devastating to Meadows’s claims that his actions were performed as part of his official duties as Chief of Staff.
After both sides issued their closing arguments and reaffirmed their fundamental arguments, the hearing ended with no ruling.
The Potential Ruling
Judge Jones did not issue a ruling from the bench on Monday evening, but he promised to deliberate and issue one "as fast as possible." Judge Jones reportedly said that Meadows must still appear for his newly scheduled September 6 arraignment, even if he doesn’t issue a ruling by then on this motion to move the case to federal court.
The Potential Impact
If this approach, which is also being argued by several of Meadows’s co-defendants, is agreed to by Judge Jones, then it would greatly benefit Meadows and could provide a path for similar motions to proceed. If this is moved to federal court, it would offer Meadows a larger jury pool, possible immunity from charges given his role in federal government, and no cameras in the courtroom. But his arguments were dubious at best. We’ll see if the Obama-appointed judge humors them.
If this motion is struck down, then Meadows’s case will remain in state court. The ruling could be seen as a bellwether case to other co-defendants. It could dissuade them from pursuing this motion further and prove to be an indicator of how future motions will be ruled on.
Two of Trump’s attorneys were reportedly in the courtroom listening to the hearing. They will be awaiting this ruling with bated breath to decide what Donald Trump should do next.