Donald Trump shouldn’t be on trial in Georgia during his 2024 presidential campaign, and, if he wins that election, he shouldn’t be on trial until he leaves the White House, his attorneys told the judge overseeing a criminal case surrounding his efforts to overturn the results of the last election he lost.
The former president and leading candidate for the Republican nomination next year is criminally accused of joining a conspiracy to unlawfully subvert the state’s election results.
Prosecutors in Fulton County have proposed an August 2024 trial date, which his attorneys have called “election interference.”
“Can you imagine the notion of the Republican nominee for president not being able to campaign for the presidency because he is, in some form or fashion, in a courtroom defending himself?” Mr Trump’s attorney Steve Sadow, making his debut in the Georgia case, told a judge during a lengthy pretrial hearing in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta on Friday.
Asked by Judge Scott McAfee whether Mr Trump should face trial in 2025, if he wins the presidential election, Mr Sadow suggested that he shouldn’t be on trial until at least January 2029, which would be the end of his term.
“The answer to that is, I believe 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 his term of office,” Mr Sadow said.
The office of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has roundly rejected that argument.
“This trial does not constitute election interference, let’s be clear,” Fulton County special prosecutor Nathan Wade told the judge. “I don’t think that it in any way impedes President Trump’s ability to campaign, or do whatever he needs to do to seek office.”
Mr Trump was initially among 19 co-defendants in the Georgia case, alongside his former White House chief of staff, a former US Department of Justice official, attorneys who were central to the bogus claims of election fraud at the centre of his multi-state legal campaigns to overturn election results, and state officials who joined a so-called “fake elector” scheme to falsely assert his victory in the state.
Four defendants – including his once-allied attorneys Jenna Ellis, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell – have pleaded guilty under plea agreements arranged with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office.
Judge McAfee indicated on Friday that he is unlikely to try all 15 remaining defendants together, if none of them drop out of the case with plea deals. Mr Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Mark Meadws are reportedly not being considered for such deals.
Friday’s mammoth, six-hour-long hearing included arguments for several motions surrounding the case, including arguments from Mr Trump and his co-defendants to dismiss the charges altogether on First Amendment grounds.
His lawyers have argued that the entirety of the indictment rests on “political speech.”
The sprawling indictment references the false claims of voter fraud and baseless allegations that fuelled challenges to election results, but the criminal charges target the actions that result from them, not the statements.
“You take the facts as alleged in the indictment, throughout the RICO count, and when you do that, as applied constitutionally with the First Amendment, you’ll find that it violates free speech, freedom of petitioning – all the expressions that the First Amendment is designed to protect, and therefore the indictment needs to be dismissed,” Mr Sadow told the judge.
The Georgia case is separate from but parallel to Mr Trump’s pending federal trial on conspiracy and obstruction charges stemming from his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Both cases are among four upcoming criminal trials surrounding the former president, who is also facing federal charges connected to his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. He also is criminally charged in New York for allegedly falsifying business records.
As Mr Trump’s legal team appeared in court in Atlanta on Friday, his attorneys were questioning witnesses on the stand in his civil fraud trial in Manhattan. That trial, which is now entering its 10th week, will have another round of testimony from the former president later this month.
This is a developing story