Donald Trump wants his election subversion trial moved out of Washington. That won’t be easy

Aug 9, 2023, 5:13 AM

prosecuting Trump peace...

FILE - Former President Donald Trump arrives to board his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va., after facing a judge on federal conspiracy charges that allege he conspired to subvert the 2020 election. Trump and his legal team face long odds in their bid to move his 2020 election conspiracy trial out of Washington. They argue the Republican former president can’t possibly get a fair trial in the overwhelmingly Democratic nation’s capital. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump and his legal team face long odds in their bid to move his 2020 election conspiracy trial out of Washington, arguing the Republican can’t possibly get a fair trial in the overwhelmingly Democratic nation’s capital.

Criminal defendants routinely try to have their cases moved to increase their chances of getting a favorable jury. Trump and his attorney say they’re eying West Virginia, which Trump easily won in 2020.

But there’s a notoriously high bar for proving the jury pool is so biased or tainted by pretrial publicity that the trial must be moved. Such efforts have failed in some of the most high-profile American trials in recent memory. And judges appointed by presidents of both political parties in Washington’s federal court — including the judge overseeing Trump’s trial — have repeatedly rejected similar attempts by many of the more than 1,000 Trump supporters charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“Jurors’ political leanings are not, by themselves, evidence that those jurors cannot fairly and impartially consider the evidence presented and apply the law as instructed by the court,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, the judge appointed to Trump’s case, wrote last year in denying one Jan. 6 defendant’s bid to change venue.

Trump’s defense team has yet to formally make such a request in the case accusing Trump of conspiring with allies to overturn his 2020 presidential election defeat. But Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, said on CBS News on Sunday that it “absolutely” plans to do so.

“The president, like everyone sitting in this room, is entitled to a fair trial, and we’re going to get that,” Lauro said.

Trump faces charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of Congress in the first case that seeks to hold the former president criminally responsible for his efforts to cling to power after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. He has denied any wrongdoing, and he claims that special counsel Jack Smith is targeting him in an effort to hurt his 2024 campaign.

If Trump’s case stays in Washington, his trial will take place less than a mile (1.6 kilometers) from where the Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6 by an angry mob whipped up by his election lies and intent on stopping the certification of Biden’s electoral victory. The courthouse, which has a view of the Capitol dome from its windows, has already been the site of several high-profile Jan. 6 trials, including the seditious conspiracy cases against leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers extremist groups.

Even in some of the most intensely publicized and politically charged cases in U.S. history, judges have ruled that fair and impartial jurors can be found — with proper questioning — in the communities where the alleged crimes occurred.

Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was tried about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from where he and his brother placed bombs near the finish line. Zacharias Moussaoui, the only man convicted in a U.S. court for a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, was tried in Virginia, not far from the Pentagon. Those charged in the Watergate scandal were tried in Washington.

One of the rare federal defendants who had a trial relocated was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The trial was moved to Colorado after the judge ruled it was impossible for McVeigh to get a fair trial anywhere in Oklahoma. He was ultimately put to death in 2001 for the bombing, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.

Changes of venue can make sense in cases that are particularly notorious in a community, but Trump’s fame or infamy is hardly limited to the District of Columbia, said Vida Johnson, a Georgetown University law professor who previously worked as a public defender in D.C. Superior Court.

“There’s just no real basis for it,” she said of Trump’s suggestions to move the trial. “You’re looking for an unbiased jury, but he’s just as well known in any place.”

A slew of Jan. 6 rioters who have unsuccessfully tried to get their cases relocated have claimed they can’t get a fair trial in a district where 92% of voters cast ballots for Biden in 2020. In trying to make the case his trial should be moved to Virginia, a lawyer for an Oath Keepers associate claimed that D.C. residents “have shown that their powers of intelligent, rational thinking are suspended when Trump is involved.”

Chutkan — an appointee of President Barack Obama who has a reputation for being one of the toughest punishers of Jan. 6 defendants — last year rejected claims by Capitol riot defendant Russell Dean Alford that an impartial jury can’t be empaneled in Washington. Careful questioning of prospective jurors can root out any biases, Chutkan said, citing a 1976 ruling that found no basis for moving a Watergate-related case out of Washington.

Even so, Chutkan agreed to send a written questionnaire to prospective jurors before Alford’s trial to “screen for prejudice.” On the first day of his trial, Alford’s lawyers again pressed to move the proceedings elsewhere, citing the jury pool’s answers to the questionnaire. But Chutkan said there’s no evidence “people wouldn’t have equally strong views” in another district.

“What we’re looking for is not people without opinions,” she said. “What we’re looking for is people who are able to put aside their opinion and focus their decision solely on the evidence presented in this courtroom.”

In the Justice Department’s massive prosecution of the Jan. 6 attack, only two defendants so far have been fully acquitted of all charges. And those were bench trials decided by judges, not juries.

But prosecutors don’t have an unblemished trial record. Juries or judges have acquitted at least 39 riot defendants of one or more charges, according to an Associated Press review of court records. In one of the most high-profile Jan. 6 trials yet — against Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and associates — only two of five defendants were convicted of seditious conspiracy, even though all were found guilty of serious charges.

Johnson, who tried dozens of cases in front of D.C. juries, said the high number of well-educated jurors with college degrees and advanced degrees in Washington can actually help defendants.

“I think you’re more likely to find jurors that actually really understand the legal concepts that would benefit a defendant in a criminal trial, like the burden of proof, the concept of reasonable doubt,” she said. “So I actually think that, in some ways, this is a better place for a defendant to get a fair trial.”


Richer reported from Boston.

National News

Associated Press

ExxonMobil loses bid to truck millions of gallons of crude oil through central California

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — ExxonMobil lost a court bid Wednesday to truck millions of gallons of crude oil through central California — a crucial part of its efforts to restart offshore oil wells that were shut in 2015 after a pipeline leak caused the worst coastal spill in 25 years. A federal judge refused […]

19 minutes ago

Associated Press

Man who accosted former Rep. Lee Zeldin at campaign stop pleads guilty in federal case

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A man who climbed the platform at a campaign event in western New York last year and grappled with Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a federal officer. David Jakubonis, 44, faces up to a year in prison and a hefty fine at […]

33 minutes ago

Associated Press

Russia accuses US of promoting ties between Israel and Arabs before Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of promoting Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab nations and circumventing the Arab Peace Initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002, which calls for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before any diplomatic recognition of Israel. The statement by Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Montana man pleads not guilty to threatening to kill President Joe Biden, US Senator Jon Tester

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he threatened to kill President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, both Democrats, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana said. Anthony James Cross of Billings entered his plea on Tuesday. He remains detained. Cross, 29, has been […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Remains found of Colorado woman Suzanne Morphew, who went missing on Mother’s Day 2020

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Searchers have found the remains of a woman who was reported missing on Mother’s Day in 2020 after she did not return from a bike ride near her home in the Salida area in southern Colorado. Agents with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found the remains of Suzanne Morphew, 49, during […]

3 hours ago

The University of Nevada’s basketball team could have a new home at an off-campus arena by 2026 u...

Associated Press

Reno casino expansion plan includes new arena that could be University of Nevada basketball home

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The University of Nevada’s basketball team could have a new off-campus home by 2026 under an ambitious 10-year expansion plan that Reno’s largest hotel-casino announced Wednesday. The nearly $1 billion private capital investment will be the biggest in the city’s history, according to officials of the Grand Sierra Resort. In addition […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Donald Trump wants his election subversion trial moved out of Washington. That won’t be easy