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Trump lawyers claim 2024 Fulton trial would amount to ‘election interference’ in 2020 RICO case

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Trump lawyers claim 2024 Fulton trial would amount to ‘election interference’ in 2020 RICO case

Dec 02, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Stanley Dunlap
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Trump lawyers claim 2024 Fulton trial would amount to ‘election interference’ in 2020 RICO case
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Steve Sadow, an attorney for former U.S. President Donald Trump, speaks before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee at a Dec. 1 hearing for the 2020 election interference case . John David Mercer/Pool via Reuters

A lawyer representing Donald Trump in the sweeping Fulton County election interference probe says that if the trial begins in August as requested by prosecutors, it would be one of the most egregious examples of election interference in United States history.

During a Fulton County Superior Court hearing on Friday, prosecutors, defense attorneys and a judge worked through some of the logistical and legal challenges in scheduling the trial date for Trump and his remaining 14 co-defendants facing charges of racketeering and conspiracy at the height of the 2024 election season.

Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis has requested that Judge Scott McAfee schedule the trial for Aug. 5. The charge alleges that the former president, several members of his inner circle, and others were involved in a criminal enterprise which sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

At Friday’s court hearing, Trump’s attorney, Steve Sadow, stated that he wanted to avoid having the trial begin during the campaign season for the presidential election in 2024. Specifically, he requested McAfee to wait until after the Republican presidential primaries, in which Trump is heavily favored to win, to schedule any trial date. State primaries run from late winter 2024 until September.

Sadow said that if Trump receives the GOP nomination at the party convention in mid-July then holding the Fulton trial prior to the November general election would place Trump at a serious disadvantage in his expected rematch against Democratic President Joe Biden. 

“Can you imagine the notion of the Republican nominee for president not being able to campaign for the president because he is in some form or fashion in a courtroom defending himself,” Sadow said. 

A Georgia trial would also have to avoid conflicting with other legal cases Trump faces, including a federal trial scheduled for March in Washington, D.C., and another that is scheduled for May in Florida on allegations of Trump mishandling classified documents at his Mar-A-Lago estate. A $250 million civil trial is also underway in New York on allegations that Trump, his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and executives of the Trump Organization were engaged in years-long fraudulent business practices.

In all, the former president faces 91 criminal charges.

“Depending on the length of the cases, I don;t see any way this court could be set for trial in August, “ Sadow said. “While this state does not give it any consideration whatsoever, it’s very possible that at that time my client is running for election for president of the United States for the Republican Party.”

Special prosecutor Nathan Wade has suggested that McAfee consider issuing an order stating that starting the Fulton trial in August depends on it not conflicting with another trial.

“Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis has made it clear she has no interest in interfering or getting involved with this presidential election. Her sole focus is on moving this case forward,” he said.

“This is not election interference, this is moving forward with the business of Fulton County,” Wade said. “I don’t think it in any way impedes with Mr. Trump’s ability to campaign or do what he needs to do to seek office.”

McAfee asked state and defense lawyers whether Trump could even be tried if he wins the presidential election in 2024 and his trial is delayed until 2025.

“I believe that under the supremacy clause and his duties of president of the United States this trial would not take place until after he lost office,” Sadow said.

Fulton prosecutors are seeking to have Trump and his co-defendants stand trial at the same time in a case they estimate would take four months for them to just present their evidence.

However, McAfee reiterated his earlier positions that he’s likely to split up the co-defendants to manage the sprawling case.

“I know the state in terms of preference for conserving time and judicial resources, the goal being to try the case once from a logistical standpoint,” he said. “My initial thought is the state would be able to choose an A league and a B league and if the case is resolved on either trial the folks on the B list need to be ready to sub in.”

As part of Friday’s marathon hearing, the attorneys for former Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer as well as former Trump campaign attorneys Ray Smith and Robert Cheeley argued that McAfee should dismiss the criminal charges.

According to prosecutors,Trump and Shafer were involved in the overarching scheme to disrupt Georgia’s election process by communicating falsehoods with state lawmakers, the Justice Department and other high ranking officials.

Shafer and Trump’s legal teams argued that the charges outlined in the criminal indictment violate their clients’ First Amendment rights protecting freedom of speech and political expression. Prosecutors say the defendants’ actions are criminal and don’t enjoy First Amendment protections.