Trump’s Trial-Delay Strategy Yields Results Even He Did Not Expect

As former President Donald J. Trump was indicted a first time, a second, a third and a fourth last year, he and his legal team cycled through disbelief, anger and a recognition that he would have to spend much of 2024 facing juries as he campaigned to return to the White House.

But even as Mr. Trump made the charges against him a rallying cry for his supporters and sought to hijack courtrooms for his political purposes, his lawyers sought ways to delay the trials by using pretrial motions to drive the proceedings into legal cul-de-sacs.

It was not clear even to them that the strategy would work. But they nonetheless threw all kinds of arguments at judges intended to push some or all of the trials past Election Day, when a victory by Mr. Trump would give him ways to further postpone judgment or wipe away the charges entirely.

The substantial success they have had came into clearer focus on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court decided to take up one of his long-shot legal arguments: that presidents are all but immune from prosecution for actions they take in office.

The choice by the justices means that Mr. Trump’s federal trial on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election, originally scheduled to begin next week, now seems unlikely to begin before September.

On Friday, the timing of another case will firm up somewhat. Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing Mr. Trump’s trial on federal charges of mishandling classified documents after he left office and then obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them, is likely to set a new start date for that proceeding, which was originally scheduled to begin in late May.

Federal prosecutors and Mr. Trump’s lawyers have a deadline on Thursday to file their requests for a new start date for the documents trial.

The case in Georgia in which Mr. Trump is accused of trying to subvert his 2020 election loss in that state is bogged down in a pretrial drama over the conduct of the district attorney who brought the charges.

If things continue to break Mr. Trump’s way, it is possible — though by no means assured — that he will go to trial before November in only a single case, in Manhattan, where he is facing charges related to hush money payments to a porn star in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.

Even the possibility that he will face only one or two trials this year represents a victory of sorts for Mr. Trump and his legal team. It also highlights the complexities of seeking to prosecute a former president who is closing in on the 2024 Republican nomination and could very well take the oath of office again on Jan. 20.

This is “what defense attorneys do for well-resourced clients all the time, and around the country, it’s just that a lot more people are paying attention to this particular defendant,” said Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and F.B.I. official.

But there is still much legal wrangling ahead, and the proceedings in the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Friday, when Judge Cannon is likely to set a new trial date in the classified documents case, underscore the legal and logistical complications.

Judge Cannon has already said she is inclined to make some “reasonable adjustments” to the timing of the trial. Several decisions Judge Cannon has reached in recent months about the pacing of the case have made it all but impossible for trial to start as originally scheduled on May 20, and the pretrial maneuvering by Mr. Trump’s legal team has shown how disputes over how to handle the highly sensitive material at the heart of the charges can gum up the proceedings.

On Wednesday, Judge Cannon denied a highly unusual request from Mr. Trump’s lawyers to gain access to a secret government filing detailing a trove of classified discovery evidence that prosecutors said was neither helpful nor relevant to his defense.

If Judge Cannon had permitted the request, legal experts said, it would have fallen far outside the normal procedures laid out in the Classified Information Procedures Act, the federal law governing the use of classified materials at public trials.

But even while ruling against Mr. Trump, Judge Cannon seemed to suggest that he was different from most criminal defendants. She did not quite agree with the position of Jack Smith, the special counsel, that the facts in this case did not justify “a deviation from the normal process.”

“The court cannot speak with such confidence in this first-ever criminal prosecution of a former United States president — once the country’s chief classification authority over many of the documents the special counsel now seeks to withhold from him,” she wrote.

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