Making a Federal Case of It

Former President Donald Trump and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis are set to face off in a legal battle that will likely run through the 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA and Christian MONTERROSA / AFP via Getty Images)

Welcome back to The Collision! Quite a bit has happened since our last issue. No, Sarah hasn’t had her baby, but I’ll be helming the newsletter solo as she gets ready for the new addition to her family—and for a little while afterward.

First, let’s get up to speed on the many developments in Donald Trump’s legal saga, via a new feature we’re trying out.

The Docket

  • March 4, 2024: That’s the date set by Judge Tanya Chutkan to start the trial in the federal case about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. While other proposed trial dates are subject to change given likely pretrial motions, this one is the first solid trial date for any of the former president’s four indictments. It’s a couple months after special counsel Jack Smith’s preference for January, but Judge Chutkan seemed to have had no interest in the Trump legal team’s request to push the trial to 2026.
  • March 5, 2024: That’s the date of Super Tuesday, the biggest slate of same-day nominating contests and the first and best chance for Republican presidential candidates to scoop up a chunk of delegates in one fell swoop. How could the trial starting the day before GOP voters go to the polls in California, Texas, North Carolina, and a dozen other states affect the race? So much depends on factors we don’t yet know, but Trump’s rivals for the nomination don’t sound particularly jazzed about the schedule. One top adviser to another Republican presidential candidate told The Dispatch this week they believe the trial will give Trump an additional boost at exactly the wrong time. That’s if Trump—currently averaging nearly 54 percent support in national polls of primary voters—even needs any more of a “boost” at that point.
  • And in Georgia, we got a glimpse this week of what Trump and his co-defendants may be arguing in the coming weeks: Fani Willis’ racketeering case should be tried in federal court. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows testified in front of a federal judge in Atlanta on Monday as part of his motion to remove his indictment from Fulton County to the federal district court. Meadows testified that he believed his actions following the 2020 election were within the scope of his White House position as a member of the federal executive branch.
  • The prosecution, meanwhile, called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who testified that he avoided answering Meadows’ post-election calls because he perceived them as campaign-related rather than official executive branch business. Raffensperger also characterized the famous January 2 call from Trump as a “campaign call”—all to emphasize that Trump and his White House staff were acting as private citizens, not executive branch officials. The judge has not yet made a decision on transferring the case.
  • Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled Wednesday that Rudy Giuliani is legally liable and owes punitive damages to two Georgia election workers who were the subject of conspiracy theories after the 2020 election. Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss sued Giuliani for defamation in 2021 after the former New York mayor and Trump attorney spread attacks about them. A jury will determine how much Giuliani owes them in damages.
  • On the other side of things, the New York Post reported late last week that a lawyer on Jack Smith’s team met with members of Biden’s White House counsel’s office “just weeks” before the special counsel first brought charges against Trump. “Jay Bratt, who joined the special counsel team in November 2022, shortly after it was formed, took a meeting in the White House on March 31, 2023, with Caroline Saba, deputy chief of staff for the White House counsel’s office, White House visitor logs show,” the Post reported, adding that Bratt had two previous meetings at the White House in 2021.

A Strategy of Delay

We should stick with the Peach State for a bit this week, since the Meadows hearing—the first since the Fulton County indictment was unveiled earlier this month—had me asking: What’s coming next in Georgia? I talked with some Georgia-based defense attorneys this week who outlined in broad terms what Trump will try to do next in this racketeering case, and it all comes back to one goal: delay, delay, delay until after the 2024 election, when he will (in his mind) be president and untouchable by prosecution.

The first step for the former president will likely be to petition for removal from the Fulton County Superior Court to federal court, just as Meadows is already trying to do. If the federal judge grants Meadows’ request, that decision could possibly remove the entire case from the Fulton County court to the federal district court and make it unnecessary for Trump to ask for removal himself.

Join to continue reading
Get started with a free account or join as a member for unlimited access to all of The Dispatch. Continue ALREADY HAVE AN ACCOUNT? SIGN IN