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Trump’s lawyers tell an appeals court that federal prosecutors are trying to rush his election case

Dec 13, 2023, 6:12 AM | Updated: 9:28 am

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White H...

FILE - President Donald Trump speaks after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, March 24, 2019, in Washington. Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Donald Trump have signaled their desire to invoke the 2016 election in the former president's trial on charges of scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for Donald Trump told a federal appeals court on Wednesday that it should not speed up its consideration of whether the former president is immune from prosecution, accusing federal prosecutors of trying to rush his 2020 election subversion case through before next year’s presidential election.

“The prosecution has one goal in this case: To unlawfully attempt to try, convict, and sentence President Trump before an election in which he is likely to defeat President Biden,” defense lawyers wrote Wednesday. “This represents a blatant attempt to interfere with the 2024 presidential election and to disenfranchise the tens of millions of voters who support President Trump’s candidacy.”

The issue is of paramount significance to both sides given the potential for a protracted appeal to delay a trial beyond its currently scheduled start date of March 4. Trump faces charges he plotted to overturn the 2020 election after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden, and he has denied doing anything wrong.

Special counsel Jack Smith, whose team has brought two federal cases against Trump in Washington and in Florida, has sought to keep both on track while Trump has attempted to delay the proceedings — at one point even asking for the Washington prosecution to be pushed back until 2026. A postponement until after the election would clearly benefit Trump, especially since, if elected president, he would have the authority to try and order the Justice Department to dismiss federal cases.

In telling the Washington-based federal appeals court that there was no reason for it to fast-track the immunity question, Trump’s lawyers wrote that the “date of March 4, 2024, has no talismanic significance.

“Aside from the prosecution’s unlawful partisan motives, there is no compelling reason that date must be maintained, especially at the expense of President Trump and the public’s overriding interest in ensuring these matters of extraordinary constitutional significance are decided appropriately, with full and thoughtful consideration to all relevant authorities and arguments,” they wrote.

At issue is an appeal by the Trump team, filed last week, of a trial judge’s rejection of arguments that he was protected from prosecution for actions he took as president. Smith sought to short-circuit that process by asking the Supreme Court on Monday to take up the issue during its current term, a request he acknowledged was “extraordinary” but one he said he was essential to keep the case moving forward.

Smith’s team simultaneously asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to expedite its consideration of Trump’s appeal, writing: “The public has a strong interest in this case proceeding to trial in a timely manner. The trial cannot proceed, however, before resolution of the defendant’s interlocutory appeal.”

The Trump team made clear its opposition to that request, saying the case presents “novel, complex, and sensitive questions of profound importance.”

“Whether a President of the United States may be criminally prosecuted for his official acts as President goes to the core of our system of separated powers and will stand among the most consequential questions ever decided by this Court,” they wrote. “The manifest public interest lies in the Court’s careful and deliberate consideration of these momentous issues with the utmost care and diligence.”

In addition, the attorneys wrote, keeping the current schedule intact would require attorneys and support staff to work round-the-clock through the holidays, inevitably disrupting family and travel plans.

“It is as if the Special Counsel growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, ‘I must find some way to keep Christmas from coming. … But how?’” the lawyers wrote, referring to the fictional character created by the children’s author Dr. Seuss.

The Supreme Court has indicated that it would decide quickly whether to hear the case, ordering Trump’s lawyers to respond by Dec. 20. The court’s brief order did not signal what it ultimately would do.

A Supreme Court case usually lasts several months, from the time the justices agree to hear it until a final decision. Smith is asking the court to move with unusual, but not unprecedented, speed.

Nearly 50 years ago, the justices acted within two months of being asked to force President Richard Nixon to turn over Oval Office recordings in the Watergate scandal. The tapes were then used later in 1974 in the corruption prosecutions of Nixon’s former aides.

It took the high court just a few days to effectively decide the 2000 presidential election for Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.

If the justices decline to step in at this point, Trump’s appeal would continue at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Smith said even a rapid appellate decision might not get to the Supreme Court in time for review and final word before the court’s traditional summer break.

Trump faces four criminal prosecutions in four different cities. He is charged in Florida with illegally retaining classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and faces a state prosecution in Georgia that accuse him of trying to subvert that state’s 2020 presidential election and a New York case that accuses him of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actress.

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Trump’s lawyers tell an appeals court that federal prosecutors are trying to rush his election case