As he battles criminal prosecutors and civil cases in four jurisdictions, former President Trump relies on three tactics: criticism, distraction and delay.
In the short term, that would be good politics; Trump’s portrayal of himself as a martyr seems to strengthen his grip on the Republican presidential nomination.
But as a legal strategy, it’s a bust.
Trump has criticized prosecutors as thieves, judges as unfair and his accusations as illegitimate, without solving any of his problems in court.
In New York last week, the former president sought to dismiss the state’s civil lawsuit against him over allegations of financial fraud.
“This is an unfair trial,” he lectured Judge Arthur Engoron. “We have a bad judge.”
Engoron ignored the jabs.
“You can attack me any way you want, but please answer the questions,” he said.
“Judges are bending over backwards to avoid litigation when Trump’s rights are violated,” said Donald B. Ayer, who was a top Justice Department official in the George HW Bush administration. “They are smart. … and the process continues.”
In both federal criminal cases, the former president’s main goal was delay.
Polls have found that Trump’s chances of winning next year’s presidential race may depend on whether he is convicted of a crime before election day. A New York Times-Siena College survey reported that a conviction could prompt 6% of voters to change sides — a shift enough to overturn the outcome.
If Trump regains the presidency, he can escape accountability by ordering the Justice Department to halt its prosecutions. So, timing matters – a lot.
But his lawyers were unsuccessful in postponing any federal charges.
In Washington, DC, Judge Tanya Chutkan has scheduled March 4 to begin Trump’s trial on federal election interference charges.
In that case, Trump’s best shot at delaying it lies with the Supreme Court, which could halt the trial while it considers whether a former president can be impeached for decisions he made in the White House.
Trump’s lawyers filed a motion arguing that his effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden was a legitimate exercise of his authority as president and that he should be “absolutely immune from prosecution.”
Not surprisingly, prosecutors disagreed, arguing that Trump’s attempts to persuade states to change their election results were acts he did as a political candidate, not as the federal chief executive. government.
No court has decided whether former presidents are immune from prosecution, because no other former president has been indicted.
If the issue reaches the Supreme Court, it will almost certainly delay a trial for months.
“I believe they will make this decision by July 1,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former federal prosecutor. “But even if they speed up, the Supreme Court is not fast.”
That timetable would still give Chutkan time to hold a trial before election day — if the Supreme Court rules against Trump.
In the second case, indicting Trump on accusations of improperly keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Judge Aileen Cannon became more sympathetic to his lawyers’ requests for more preparation time.
Last week, he refused their request to postpone the trial from his target date of May 20, but he promised to revisit the question in March. The burden of handling thousands of classified documents has already slowed pretrial proceedings, and lawyers say the court date is almost certain to be lost.
A third criminal case, the prosecution in Georgia on charges that Trump and others conspired to change the outcome of the election there, does not yet have a start date.
In a setback for Trump, four defendants — three of them former lawyers for his 2020 campaign — negotiated plea deals and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
Because that’s not a federal case, Trump can’t block the prosecution if he regains the White House, but he can try to persuade Georgia’s Republican-led state Legislature to intervene.
But even if he loses every legal battle, Trump’s scorched-earth tactics could have devastating effects.
“He is slowly eroding faith in the rule of law, at a terrible cost that will reap the whirlwind,” Rosenzweig said.