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The Memo: Judge scrambles election with decision on Trump trial date

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The judge in former President Trump’s Jan. 6-related federal case landed a bombshell Monday when she set a date for his trial.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan announced jury selection in the trial would begin March 4 — the day before Super Tuesday, the biggest day on the GOP primary calendar.

In making her decision, Chutkan declared that a trial date “cannot and should not” depend on the timetable of a defendant’s work life.

Chutkan pushed the starting date later than sought by special counsel Jack Smith and his team, who wanted the trial to begin in January.

But her chosen spot on the calendar is a lot closer to Smith’s request than to the Trump team’s implausible suggestion that the trial should be postponed until 2026.

It is a remarkable choice, even if Chutkan professes indifference to the political ramifications of her decision. Around 14 states are expected to cast ballots in the GOP primary on Super Tuesday.

GOP figures allied with Trump are indignant.

“I was shocked that they would be this blatant,” said one Republican operative supportive of Trump. “On what basis does the trial absolutely need to start the day before Super Tuesday? Are we really supposed to believe that this is just coincidence — that she didn’t take anything about the politics into account?”

Trump himself sounded a similar theme, blaming a “biased Trump Hating judge” for setting a date that is “just what our corrupt government wanted.”

But the former president could be on dangerous ground with posts like those.

At an earlier hearing, Chutkan suggested that incendiary public pronouncements from Trump that could taint the jury pool would push her toward expediting his trial.

Separately, an unnamed spokesperson for the Trump campaign issued a statement contending that the date chosen by Chutkan meant that “the Biden regime is no longer hiding its nakedly political motivations.” The statement also claimed that the date “deprives President Trump of his Constitutional right to a fair trial.”

There is no guarantee that any of this will hurt Trump, at least so far as his battle for the Republican nomination is concerned.

The former president has now been indicted four times on a total of 91 charges. But, far from holing his campaign below the waterline, those charges instead appear to have prompted Republican voters to rally around Trump. 

The indictments, and the court appearances around them, have also coincided with fundraising spikes. On Friday, the day after Trump surrendered to authorities in Georgia, his campaign raised $4.18 million, according to figures first reported by Politico. The Trump campaign is selling merchandise adorned with his mug shot from the Georgia case. 

As for the overall shape of the race, Trump is far and away the front-runner. On Monday afternoon, he was leading his closest GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by 34 points in the weighted national polling average maintained by FiveThirtyEight.

Still, the political dynamics could get complicated.

For a start, there are logistical concerns — namely that Trump’s activities on the campaign trial will be circumscribed by the need to be present for trials.

In addition to the trial presided over by Chutkan, two of Trump’s other cases have had nominal starting dates set. 

His trial in New York on charges of falsifying business records, relating to a hush money payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels, is set to begin March 25. His Florida trial about the sensitive documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago is penciled in for May 20.

“There is an argument, of course, that this helps him with primary voters but it also limits his ability to campaign,” the Trump-supportive operative said. “That’s not something you want either.”

More skeptical voices within Republican circles believe that even the party’s grassroots supporters will tire of the chaos Trump brings if they see him go on trial right in the middle of primary season.

“I think there is a tipping point where they say, ‘We’ve just had enough of this,’” said Brad Blakeman, a longtime Republican operative who served in former President George W. Bush’s White House.

Blakeman also contended that plenty of Republican voters are aware of the damage being done to Trump’s capacity to win a general election.

The criminal cases in aggregate, “hurt him, in my opinion,” Blakeman said. “You are not going to get independents or women, or fiscally responsible Democrats or middle-of-the-road Republicans. I talk to people all the time and they are over Trump … It’s just too much drama.”

It bears emphasizing that the general public does not share the GOP base’s contention that the charges against Trump are unfair or that a preelection trial amounts to political interference.

A Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll released late last week found that a majority of Americans believe that each of the four cases Trump faces should go to trial before the 2024 election.

An AP/Norc poll released earlier this month found that 53 percent of Americans believe Trump should indeed have been indicted in the federal case over which Chutkan is presiding.

It is, of course, still possible that any of the Trump trial dates could slide back.

But Monday’s decision by Chutkan, at a minimum, intensifies the drama over a scenario that is without parallel in American history.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Source: The Hill

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