A trial date was set Monday for former President Donald Trump right in the middle of the 2024 presidential primary calendar, while Trump’s former chief of staff took the stand in Georgia in what amounted to a mini-trial in the election subversion case there.
The split-screen developments Monday in Washington, DC, and Atlanta underscored how Trump’s four criminal cases will develop over the next year as he attempts to recapture the White House.
In special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion case, Trump’s bid to put the trial off until after the election appears to have failed. Meanwhile, it is still too soon to say if Meadows will successfully move his case – and potentially the former president’s with it – from state to federal court.
Here’s what to know from a busy and significant day in the multiple trials of Donald Trump:
A March trial for the former president in Washington, DC, over his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election will undoubtedly play a role in his run to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.
Judge Tanya Chutkan’s announced trial date for the charges brought by the special counsel, March 4, is just one day before Super Tuesday, when over a dozen states will hold their primary elections.
Instead of campaigning, Trump – currently the leading GOP candidate by a wide margin in the polls – would possibly be sitting in federal court for a trial that could last eight weeks, attorneys in the case have said.
Meanwhile, the criminal case against Trump in New York is also scheduled for March. Chutkan said she has spoken with New York Judge Juan Merchan about the schedule.
Trump was charged in April with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records over the alleged repayments to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Trump, which he denies. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The proceedings in Georgia were the first time that the substance of any of the four indictments filed this year against Trump was argued in open court, a mini-trial of sorts in the case against Trump and 18 others from the Fulton County district attorney.
Prosecutors questioned Meadows about Trump’s January 2, 2021, call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when Trump asked him to “find” the votes he needed to win the state.
Hear what Republican voters have to say after listening to infamous Trump call
Meadows was pressed about the claims of voter fraud and what he thought when Attorney General Bill Barr told Trump that the allegations were “bullsh*t.”
Meadows said Monday that he believed at the time that “further investigation” was warranted, even though he “had no reason to doubt Mr. Barr’s” assessment that the fraud allegations were meritless. But he said that he still thought “additional inquiries were appropriate.”
At the same time, Meadows would not say he thought Joe Biden had won Georgia when the call occurred. He argued that some of the things Trump raised on the call did need more scrutiny to determine who really won the election. “In my mind, that was an open question,” Meadows said.
The proceedings in Georgia also included some evidence not in the indictment unveiled earlier this month, as prosecutors cited an email from Trump aide Jason Miller, which had the domain of Trump’s campaign, Donaldtrump.com.
Mark Meadows takes the stand
Meadows taking the stand was a remarkable twist in his own bid to move his case from state court to federal court. Such a move could end up with the charges being dismissed and change the entire tenor of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ prosecution of Trump and 18 co-defendants.
It’s a risky move to put the defendant on the stand – and subject them to cross-examination from prosecutors – for a pretrial motion, but it demonstrates the importance that Meadows has placed on changing the venue.
Meadows was smiling as he was sworn in, and even prompted laughter when he told the judge he was already “in enough trouble as it is” and wanted to make sure he answered a question correctly. But Meadows also displayed his frustration with Fulton County prosecutors’ questions as he was pressed while on the witness stand.
Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger walked his client through many of the actions he took after the 2020 election that were laid out in the indictment, such as meetings with state legislators in the Oval Office.
“It would have been in my official capacity as chief of staff,” Meadows, dressed in a blue suit with a light blue tie, said of a November 2020 Oval Office meeting with Michigan lawmakers that was cited in the indictment.
Meadows also denied one of the allegations in the indictment, saying he “did not ask” Trump White House aide John McEntee to write a memo about how to disrupt the certification of the election on January 6, 2021.
Meadows was pressed by prosecutors on how the federal government had a role in a state’s determination of its election results.
“There is a role for the chief of staff to make sure those campaign goals and objectives are implemented at the federal level,” Meadows testified.
Meadows and his attorney are betting that his testimony will help move his case to federal court – where he hopes to get the charges dismissed under a federal immunity claim extended, in certain contexts, to individuals who are prosecuted or sued for alleged conduct that was done on behalf of the US government or was tied to their federal position.
Trump’s attorneys – including one watching the proceedings in the courthouse Monday – are keeping a close eye on the outcome of his motion.
Raffensperger testified as a witness for the Fulton County district attorney’s office, saying the US government played no role in certifying Georgia’s election – and as a result the “extraordinary” outreach from the Trump White House was campaign-related.
“It was a campaign call,” Raffensperger said of the January 2021 phone call with Trump.
Raffensperger also said that he didn’t return a phone call from Meadows in late-2020 because he “did not feel that it was appropriate” to speak with Meadows while Trump was still contesting Georgia’s election results.
Fulton County prosecutors played a clip of the phone call in open court, specifically, the beginning of the call when Meadows introduced everyone.
Raffensperger testified that he first tried to resist the call. “I told my deputy I don’t think this is in our best interest,” he said.
During closing statements in the Georgia hearing, the judge asked Meadows’ lawyer about the limits of his duties as a federal official – a key question that is at the heart of the hearing.
Terwilliger said the job responsibilities are broad because Meadows’ role as chief of staff was so closely intertwined with the operations of the federal government.
“But if he shot a demonstrator in Lafayette Park, that would obviously be outside the scope of his duties,” Terwilliger said.
US District Court Judge Steve Jones did not rule on Meadows’ motion from the bench at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing. He acknowledged that arraignments in the criminal case were scheduled for September 6, and said he would rule as quickly as possible.
Meadows’ attorney said they were “entitled to a prompt determination” of whether his state criminal charges will be moved to federal court.
The judge tilted his head and seemed a little surprised by the comment, saying of Meadows, “If I don’t rule by September 6, then he should show up for the arraignment.”
Monday’s hearing in Washington made clear that both the judge and prosecutors are paying close attention to whatever Trump and his team say out of court.
The former president, his legal team and his political surrogates have repeatedly criticized the Justice Department, Chutkan and residents of Washington, DC, in online posts and media appearances.
While there is no restriction on Trump’s ability to make those comments – despite a limited restriction on his ability to discuss specific evidence in the case – prosecutors made clear they will be taking what is said publicly into consideration when arguing to the judge.
For instance, prosecutor Molly Gaston pointedly confronted Trump attorney John Lauro with his own public statements during the hearing Monday. Lauro argued that the special counsel’s team was unfairly rushing begin the trial so that his team would be hamstrung in their defense, but Gaston noted that Lauro called the indictment “a regurgitation of the J6 committee report” in a CNN interview immediately after the indictment was unsealed.
Lauro has also publicly claimed, Gaston said, that he has read former Vice President Mike Pence’s book twice in anticipation of the trial.
“We are not starting fresh from indictment in this case,” Gaston said.
Chutkan – in closing Monday’s hearing – said she would be “watching carefully for anything that might affect that jury pool or poison that jury pool” in the lead up to the March 4 trial date.
Chutkan set a clear tone of authority early in Monday’s hearing, telling Lauro twice to “take the temperature down” as he argued the special counsel’s prosecution was akin to a “show trial.”
“Let’s take the temperature down a little here,” Chutkan told Lauro during his many assertions against prosecutors, including that Trump is getting unfair treatment amid the special counsel’s “absurd” request for a January 2024 trial date.
“For a federal prosecutor to suggest that we could go to trial in four months is not only absurd, but it’s a violation of their oath to do justice,” Lauro said.
Chutkan, who early in the case against Trump made plain her decisions would be clear and final, told Lauro, “Mr. Trump will be treated…with no more or less deference” than anyone else in her courtroom.
Chutkan repeatedly knocked down Lauro’s arguments against an early 2024 trial date.
“Mr. Trump has known about the government’s investigation for nearly a year” and has received discovery in a more organized manner from prosecutors than most defendants, the judge said. “I take seriously the request that Mr. Trump be treated like any other defendant, and I intend to do so,” Chutkan said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.