In a contentious legal debate surrounding former President Donald Trump, his attorney has sparked controversy by arguing that prosecuting Trump in Georgia if he becomes the Republican nominee would amount to "election interference." This claim was made during discussions on trial timing in the Fulton County Superior Court, where Judge Scott McAfee deliberated the issue raised by Trump’s attorney, Steve Sadow.
Sadow suggested that a potential victory for Trump in the 2024 election would grant him immunity from criminal trial in Georgia until his term ends, presumably in 2029. This assertion hinges on the Supremacy Clause and the presidential duties, proposing that the trial be postponed until after his term.
This stance has been met with critical responses, primarily as District Attorney Fani Willis seeks a joint trial for Trump and 14 others implicated in a racketeering case to commence on August 5, 2024. The trial, encompassing four months of prosecution case presentation, could coincide with the critical months of the election campaign.
Trial Timing Dispute
Former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, now a law professor at the University of Michigan, argues for setting the trial in August, with the possibility of reassessment depending on the defendants' pleas. However, Sadow’s objection to an August start, labeling it as potential election interference, raises significant concerns about the impact on Trump's campaign activities.
Legal experts, however, counter that a trial during a presidential election is not interference but a matter of public interest. McQuade highlights the importance of the public's right to a speedy trial and the potential postponement to January 2029 if Trump were re-elected.
The notion of delaying a trial due to a presidential run is deemed premature by McQuade, warning against setting a precedent where declaring candidacy could be used to defer legal proceedings. This view is echoed by Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and Pace University law professor, who describes the interference claim as "farfetched" and a tactic to evade legal accountability.
Legal Tactics Scrutinized
Gershman warns of the dangerous implications of such a precedent, questioning whether it would imply immunity for other political figures facing legal challenges. He also points out the numerous other trials Trump faces, suggesting that delaying the Georgia trial could lead to a more manageable schedule for these proceedings, with federal trials in Washington DC and Florida appearing particularly solid.
Trial attorney Bernard Alexander dismisses Sadow’s argument as a mere spin, emphasizing that the defendant’s political engagements should not influence court decisions. Alexander insists on no special considerations for Trump or ex-presidents, stressing the need for a reasonable cause to delay justice.
Currently embroiled in three other criminal cases, Trump has entered not-guilty pleas in both the Georgia and federal election interference criminal cases. Despite his efforts to delay these trials, they are set to proceed next year, with the federal trial for election interference, the New York trial over hush money payments scheduled for March, and the federal trial for hoarding classified records in May.
Judge McAfee has yet to set a trial date in the Georgia case, indicating that the matter will be addressed in detail in the upcoming year. This development highlights the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones (1997), which determined that a sitting president is not immune from legal proceedings and should be treated like any other litigant, thereby setting a precedent that could significantly impact Trump's legal battles.