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The Drama of Donald
Before the curtain rises on the Trump trials, let’s revisit the scenes that set the stage.
MONDAY WAS A GOOD DAY for the rule of law. The needle on the gauge of whether Donald Trump will be tried federally before the 2024 election just swung, if not to “certain,” at least to “near-certain.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan set a date of March 4, 2024 for Trump’s trial on three counts of criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and one count of obstructing Congress’s joint session to certify Joe Biden’s victory.
While rejecting both Special Counsel Jack Smith’s proposed trial date of January 2, 2024 and Trump’s outrageous suggestion of April 2026, Judge Chutkan didn’t exactly “split the baby,” as Trump may have hoped.
In setting an early date, she put on the record both the public’s right to a “speedy resolution” and a reason why it was fair to require that this particular defendant get ready in seven months (counting from the date of his indictment): “Let’s not overlook the fact,” she stated, “that Mr. Trump has considerable resources that every defendant does not usually have.”
TRUMP HAS BEEN ON A COLLISION COURSE with the law for his entire adult life. Before becoming president, he ran his international business selling the Trump brand like a criminal enterprise. His partners were Russian mob-types and others with rap sheets that spanned the globe.
He’s like a character out of Greek tragedy, whose flaws, revealed through his actions, seal his fate. Consider the story scene by scene: First, his particular excellence—a talent for grift large and small—brings him success, which in turns feeds lust for more attention, power, money, and vengeance.
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Those needs drive him to seek high office, where his tyrannical impulses reveal themselves. He is convinced he is immune from the law, and he acts on that conviction, setting up the inevitable pursuit by law enforcement.
He decides to announce two years early that he is again running for the presidency, in order to be able to claim that any investigations and prosecutions are political and meant to halt his candidacy.
That announcement leads Attorney General Merrick Garland to declare the existence of the “extraordinary circumstances” that are the tripwire in the Justice Department regulations for appointing a special counsel. Garland names Jack Smith, a tough prosecutor.
Thus is the stage set for Trump’s first federal indictment, the one for allegedly obstructing a grand jury investigation and Espionage Act violations in Florida. To prove that he is the one man who is above the law, Trump is compelled to keep sensitive national security secrets in a bathroom and ballroom at Mar-a-Lago after his term of office ends.
And that’s not to mention his stiffing a federal grand jury subpoena for months, inducing his lawyers to lie in a provably false way, and enlisting members of the supporting cast to lie with security cameras on, recording their misdeeds and proving his falsehoods.
That ends up creating an open-and-shut case on the evidence, whatever the prospects for a fair trial under a judge who seems intent on helping Trump out any way she can.
Meanwhile, the second federal indictment arrives, and the day after a federal magistrate judge warns him on August 3 against witness and jury tampering, he does what looks to the world like exactly such misconduct—a social media post saying, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”
That prompts Judge Chutkan, assigned to oversee the case, to sensibly explain that in the face of “inflammatory statements,” an early trial is the best protection of his right, and the public’s right, for a fair trial.
It doesn’t end there. When given the opportunity to propose a trial date himself, he absurdly offers April 2026—a date so far away that the judge couldn’t see it on a clear day.
That move leaves her with one option—to set the early trial date well before the 2024 election campaign reaches its zenith. Which she does.
And here we are.
JUDGE CHUTKAN’S MARCH 4 DATE may not hold, but you can count on two things: Trump trying to postpone it, and the date not retreating more than two months.
By the currently scheduled trial start date, voting will already be underway in the earliest 2024 primaries—indeed, the next day, March 5, will be “Super Tuesday.” Judge Chutkan has already said that “the fact that [Trump] is running a political campaign currently has to yield to the administration of justice.” Still, to avoid interfering excessively with his electioneering rights, the judge is likely to want the trial to occur well before the July 2024 Republican National Convention.
Given the evidence against Trump, his prospects for pre-election conviction are as high as they can be given prosecutors’ obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Jurors in Washington, D.C. are known for holding the government to that standard. Even in the Proud Boys trial this past spring, the jury acquitted Dominic Pezzola of the most serious charge of seditious conspiracy because the evidence did not sufficiently tie him to it. (Pezzola was the insurrectionist who first smashed the Capitol building window with a police shield.) Trump’s problem is that Jack Smith’s evidence, by all appearances, exceeds proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
No one is above the law. Expect to see that truth play out as the curtain rises on the scenes to come.