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DC judge sets March trial for Trump charges related to Jan. 6

Trial slated to start the day before 'Super Tuesday,' when dozens of states vote in the Republican primary

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump,  John Lauro, left, and Todd Blanche, second from left, depart the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Court House on Monday in Washington as a demonstrator in a Trump mask stands in front. Lauro and Blanche attended a status hearing held by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.
Attorneys for former President Donald Trump, John Lauro, left, and Todd Blanche, second from left, depart the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Court House on Monday in Washington as a demonstrator in a Trump mask stands in front. Lauro and Blanche attended a status hearing held by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Washington scheduled a March trial for former President Donald Trump on charges that he attempted to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, another scheduling clash between his legal troubles and his campaign for the presidency next year.

Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday set the trial date over objections from Trump’s attorneys, who argued that they needed until 2026 to prepare for the case.

The March 4 date for the trial, which could last two months or more, means it would start the day before “Super Tuesday,” when dozens of states vote in the Republican primary.

Chutkan said she would not let Trump’s political schedule dictate the course of the case. “If this case involved a professional athlete, for example, it would be inappropriate to set the trial date based on her game schedule,” Chutkan said.

Chutkan said Trump’s proposed timeline was “far beyond what is necessary” to prepare for the case, but she also said the prosecution’s proposed timeline of a January trial would not happen, either. She then adopted the March trial date.

“There is a societal interest in providing a speedy trial separate from, and at times in opposition to, the accused,” Chutkan said before setting the date.

Chutkan noted that the trial date would interfere with a separate trial in New York state on charges alleging that Trump falsified business records related to his 2016 run for office. She said she had notified the judge in that case of the potential conflict.

Trump may face as many as four criminal trials in the next 12 months, as the schedules for a string of civil cases and historic prosecutions start to fill in the backdrop of his comeback bid for the White House.

Trump objections

John Lauro, one of Trump’s attorneys, objected to the March trial date and argued the team needed years to prepare for a case involving more than 12 million pages of documents and hundreds of witnesses.

“We will not be able to provide adequate representation,” Lauro said. “The trial date will deny President Trump the opportunity to have effective assistance of counsel in light of the enormity of this case.”

Lauro argued that the case involved a “gargantuan amount of facts” for the defense team to absorb, and that Chutkan should allow time for Trump to challenge premises of the case, such as executive privilege or free speech issues surrounding the government’s theory.

“This is one of the most unique cases from a legal perspective to be brought in the history of the United States ever,” Lauro said.

Chutkan pushed back on some of Lauro’s arguments, noting that charging a former president for his conduct in office while running for another term “may be points of historic note about this case, but they are not legal issues.”

The judge also admonished Lauro several times to “take the temperature down for a moment” when arguing on behalf of Trump.

One of the prosecutors, Molly Gaston, said Lauro overstated the issues in preparing for trial, including the documents to be reviewed and the legal issues. Gaston argued that more than half of the documents in the case are duplicative or were already available to Trump or entities associated with him.

Gaston also pointed out that Trump’s team already has litigated executive privilege issues in five sealed proceedings involving more than a dozen grand jury witnesses.

The public also has an interest in a speedy trial, given the “historic” nature of the case against Trump, Gaston said.

“The defendant, formerly the seniormost official in our federal government, is accused of historic crimes, attempting to overturn a presidential election, disenfranchise millions of Americans and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” Gaston said.

Gaston pointed out that Trump has also posted regularly about the case online, disparaging witnesses, the court and the District of Columbia, which could threaten the impartiality of the potential jury for the trial.

Busy schedule

A federal grand jury in Washington indicted Trump earlier this month on four felony counts related to his effort to overturn the 2020 election. Prosecutors alleged that Trump tried to pressure state officials to stop vote-counting or change totals, pressured Justice Department officials to issue false statements about fraud in the election, and tried to enlist then-Vice President Mike Pence to toss the electoral votes of Pennsylvania and other states where Trump lost.

Trump made his first appearance in the case earlier this month and pleaded not guilty. Trump did not attend Monday’s hearing.

Trump could face as many as four criminal trials in the next year. The judge in the New York state case, where Trump allegedly falsified business records connected to his 2016 presidential run, initially scheduled a trial for March of next year.

The judge in the Florida federal case, where Trump faces allegations that he kept sensitive documents at his private club after his presidency, has scheduled a trial for May.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who brought state charges against Trump tied to his effort to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia, pushed for an October trial for one of Trump’s co-defendants. That move was opposed by Trump’s attorneys.

The former president has continually used the prosecutions as part of his 2024 presidential campaign, where he leads polling for the Republican nomination. After he surrendered to Georgia authorities last week, his campaign started using his mugshot on campaign merchandise.

Trump has complained about the cases, as well as the pretrial restrictions, in interviews and on his social media platform, Truth Social. In posts Monday, Trump claimed the prosecutions were “Election Interference” and retribution for House Republican investigations of President Joe Biden.

“It will only get worse because these deranged lunatics know no bounds. Someday, however, Sanity will again prevail. MAGA!” Trump posted Monday morning.

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