Former President Donald Trump’s various criminal indictments and his likely nomination were elephants in the room during a lengthy motions hearing in Fulton County, during which Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee set new deadlines of motions for two former federal officials who were trying to get their Georgia election case out of state court before finally tackling the presidential race.
Harry MacDougald, an attorney for former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, said his client is litigating in four forums. James Durham, an attorney for former chief of staff Mark Meadows, said that in addition to appealing his case’s removal to federal court, he is involved in several cases against former President Donald Trump. In light of this, the judge allowed the motions deadline to be postponed slightly only for the two defendants, until February 1, 2024.
In August, Mr. Clark and Mr. Meadows were two of 18 indicted alongside President Trump for their actions challenging the 2020 election results, which state prosecutors allege constituted a criminal conspiracy enterprise.
State prosecutors originally asked for a trial date of March 4, 2024, but a federal case of a similar nature — alleging that former President Trump interfered in the 2020 election — is scheduled to go to trial that day.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is prosecuting the case, has since asked for a trial date of August 5, 2024.
“That would not be unrealistic in a normal case, with multiple defendants, even with a lot of pretrial litigation that would not be unrealistic,” Judge McAfee said. “But obviously there are a lot of unique variables here.”
Prosecutors attempted to set a trial date in August, but the judge added that the court might not be able to commit to an August trial date even with six months’ notice.
Steve Sadow, former President Trump’s attorney in the Georgia case, explained that after the criminal trial in March, his client has another federal criminal trial in the Southern District of Florida in May, and a criminal case in New York awaiting a new trial date that is supposed to be set after the Florida case.
He said he saw “no way” this case could go to trial in August, when former President Trump would also “possibly run,” a “somewhat pressing” matter.
“The preference is not to be on trial while he is running,” he said.
He added that former President Trump is so far ahead in the polls that it’s unlikely he won’t become the Republican nominee, and whether or not he is could change his scheduling concerns.
“But can you imagine the notion that the Republican presidential nominee cannot campaign for the presidency because he is, in some way, shape, or form, in a courtroom defending himself?” Mr. Sadow said.
“With all due respect to everyone… that would be the most effective electoral interference,” he added. “I don’t think anyone wants to be in that situation.”
“I would hope that the state would understand that if Republicans believe he should be the nominee, that he be given the same fair opportunity to campaign nationally as the Democratic nominee, who of course right now appears to be the President.”
He asked Judge McAfee to postpone setting a trial date for the time being, and several defense attorneys asked the judge if the case would be separated from the other 15 defendants.
The judge could not commit to separating the cases at that time, but repeated that it was possible.
The state’s lawyers rejected the suggestion that they would be interfering in a presidential election.
“The prosecutor made it clear that he has no interest in interfering or getting involved in this presidential election,” said attorney Nathan Wade. “His only goal is to move the case forward, and not with respect to anything that is happening outside of Fulton County, Georgia.”
The judge asked: “What would be the State’s response that having this trial on election day is electoral interference?”
“This trial does not constitute election interference,” Mr. Wade repeated.
After contemplating a scenario in which former President Trump is the Republican Party’s nominee, the judge asked Mr. Sadow what would happen if he also won the general election.
“Mr. Sadow, if your client wins the election in 2024, could he even be tried in 2025?” Judge McAfee asked.
“The answer to that is, I think, that under the Supremacy Clause and his duties as President of the United States, this trial would not take place at all until after he left office,” Mr. Sadow said. The Supremacy Clause, in the US Constitution, puts federal law before state and local laws.
A possible trial date in 2028 did not seem like good news to most.
John Eastman’s attorney, who did not argue during the motions hearing, noted that “several defendants are not running for president of the United States.”
The judge could not commit to separating the cases, something several defendants preferred, and refused to set a deadline for separation requests.
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