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Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump stands on stage during a campaign event at Big League Dreams Las Vegas on Jan. 27, 2024, in Las Vegas.
District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan announced Friday that the federal trial of former President Donald Trump on charges related to his efforts to steal the 2020 election is no longer set to begin on March 4.
Chutkan delayed the start of the trial because an appeals court has yet to rule on Trump’s claim that he has “absolute immunity” from prosecution for anything he did while president, and that therefore the entire case should be dismissed.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Trump’s claim of absolute immunity on Jan. 9. Despite taking up the case on an expedited basis, the court has not yet issued an opinion.
Whatever verdict the appeals court reaches, the “absolute immunity” argument will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Trump faces four felony charges in the case for his alleged role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. He also faces felony criminal cases for allegedly illegally taking classified documents and paying hush money to a porn star, and a state prosecution for allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
The former president’s bid for absolute immunity is an attempt not only to get the case brought against him by special prosecutor Jack Smith tossed, but to delay the trial as long as possible during his 2024 presidential campaign.
By delaying his trials, Trump could evade a guilty decision that would likely hurt him at the polls before the election. And if he won in November, he could avoid prosecution entirely, as sitting presidents are protected from facing criminal trials while in office. He could potentially even pardon himself.
Among Trump’s four different trials, the case delayed Friday was the most significant one that was likely to reach a conclusion prior to the election.
Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed judge overseeing his classified documents trial, has done everything in her power to slow down court proceedings in that case. Trump’s trial in Georgia was already slated to start at the late date of Aug. 5, but that could be up in the air amid questions about Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. Trump’s Manhattan trial for alleged financial crimes related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels is set to start in March and should conclude before the election.
The three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit appeals court that heard Trump’s “absolute immunity” argument appeared highly skeptical that presidents are categorically immune from prosecution for anything they do while in office ― including, as Trump’s lawyer admitted in court, ordering “SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival.”
But without an opinion from the appeals court, and with the expectation of a Supreme Court appeal with possible arguments there, the trial could not begin at its scheduled start date of March 4. No new start date has been scheduled.