How Donald Trump sabotages the trials against him in the election year

An ex-president who is accused in four criminal cases – this has never happened before in US history. Now one Trump trial after another could collapse like a house of cards.

Donald Trump in the middle of the election campaign – and at the same time constantly in defense mode in the courtroom. This is how opponents of the Republican imagined the year 2024 would be. But the former US president, who is indicted in four criminal cases in the middle of an election year, is a master of delay and blockage. Several trials against him are now in limbo as to when and whether they can even begin. With legal maneuvers, the 77-year-old managed to completely mess up the court calendar.

His greatest success may be that the important election fraud trial against him in Washington is now over. First, the Supreme Court will decide whether Trump may be immune from prosecution in the case. A very welcome reprieve for Trump. There are also indications that the start of the trial will be delayed by several months in the criminal proceedings surrounding the taking of secret government documents in Florida. The trial for attempted election fraud in the state of Georgia is shaky as a whole. And it has been clear since Friday: the hush money trial against Trump in New York will also be delayed.

So far, the legal problems have not caused any damage to Trump, who wants to run for the Republicans again in the November presidential election. Polls show he continues to have the support of his supporters despite the charges. Trump maintains his innocence in all four criminal cases and portrays the investigations against him as a politically motivated witch hunt – an attempt by Democratic incumbent Joe Biden to sideline him. That catches you. And he even knows how to exploit the civil proceedings in which Trump was recently sentenced to pay significant damages and uses them to collect campaign donations.

What about the four criminal proceedings?

The trial in Washington of attempted election fraud

Trump is facing federal charges in Washington in connection with attempted election fraud and the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. These are the most serious allegations against the 77-year-old. If convicted, he could face decades in prison. Trump lost to Biden in the 2020 presidential election – but he never admitted his defeat. At that time, he and those around him tried in various ways to subsequently overturn the election results. The trial in the case was originally scheduled to begin next Monday. But the date has long been history – it is now questionable whether it can even start before the presidential election at the beginning of November.

Because Trump and his lawyers are relying on his immunity while in office as president. They argue that Trump cannot be legally prosecuted for actions that were part of his duties as president. Both the responsible judge and an appeals court saw it differently and rejected Trump's application. He turned to the US Supreme Court – with initial success. The Supreme Court accepted the appeal and scheduled a hearing for the end of April. It will then probably take several weeks until a verdict is made. If the court rules in favor of Trump, this could mean the end of the proceedings. And even if the Supreme Court rules against Trump, it could still be several months before the trial begins. It is then questionable whether a procedure would be permitted so close to the election date.

The Atlanta trial on attempted election fraud

Trump also has to answer in court in the state of Georgia for his attempts to influence the 2020 election – together with several co-defendants. Unlike federal trials, Trump would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty if he were to become president again. He faces a long prison sentence. The responsible public prosecutor, Fani Willis, has suggested that the trial begin in August, but no date has yet been set.

At times, the focus of the proceedings was no longer on Trump, but on prosecutor Willis herself. Lawyers for Trump and other defendants accused her of unlawfully benefiting financially from a romantic relationship with another prosecutor involved in the case. The accusation was, among other things, that the prosecutor was overpaid in his position and had invited Willis to luxury vacations together. At an hour-long hearing in February, Willis defended himself. On Friday, the judge responsible decided that Willis could continue the investigation. The public prosecutor with whom she had a relationship had to withdraw. He did that immediately.

The proceedings in Miami regarding the documents affair

In this federal case, Trump is accused of illegally storing highly sensitive information from his time as president in private rooms. According to the indictment, these include secret documents containing information on US nuclear capabilities and the country's military emergency plans. The Federal Police FBI investigated his private property Mar-a-Lago in Florida in August 2022 and confiscated various classified information there. He is also accused of conspiring to hinder the investigation: Among other things, he is said to have tried to make material disappear from surveillance cameras with the help of employees.

The trial was supposed to begin on May 20th. But the judge responsible indicated a possible change to the schedule months ago. Shortly before a hearing on exactly this question on Friday, both sides made new proposals: The public prosecutor's office advocated a start on July 8th, Trump's defense lawyers called for a date of August 12th at the earliest, but if possible only after the presidential election. Trump's lawyers are also trying to avert the proceedings in this case. Among other things, they invoke his immunity as president – as in the election fraud proceedings in Washington. They argue that keeping the documents as personal records was an official act during his presidency.

The proceedings in New York regarding unlawfully recorded hush money

The case in New York revolves around a matter that went back a little longer: specifically, the payment of hush money to a porn actress shortly before Trump was elected president. The public prosecutor's office accuses Trump of falsifying business documents. He wanted to hide harmful information and illegal activities before and after the 2016 presidential election in order to improve his chances of winning the election.

The background is that Trump had $130,000 in hush money paid to the porn actress Stormy Daniels shortly before his election. She had claimed that she had had sex with him. Trump denies an affair, but does not deny that money was flowed. Non-disclosure agreements between two parties are not in themselves illegal. However, Trump is accused of illegally recording the payments, trying to conceal them illegally and thereby trying to cover up other violations of the law. It is the procedure that is likely to be the least politically dangerous for Trump.

The trial was actually scheduled to start on March 25th. But on Friday, Judge Juan Merchan decided to delay the start by 30 days. Both Trump's lawyers and the prosecution had asked the court for a postponement – citing tens of thousands of pages of newly arrived documents that may be relevant to the trial and still need to be examined. A new start date has yet to be set.