Keeping up with Donald Trump’s court schedule is a dizzying task as he faces two federal trials, a criminal trial in Georgia and a separate civil and criminal trial in New York. (Oh, and he’s running for president.) To make things easier, we’ll recap the top news about the Trump trial at the end of each week.
This week, statements from four of Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case were leaked to the press in what prosecutors say is an attempt to intimidate future witnesses.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers in New York began laying out their defense in his New York civil fraud trial. And in Florida, the judge made a decision on whether to postpone the trial involving confidential federal government documents.
1. The Georgia defendants’ statements were leaked
Video recordings of the testimony of four key defendants in the Georgia election interference case – Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, Kenneth Chesebro and Scott Hall – were leaked to the media. (Both ABC News and the Washington Post reported on the leaked videos.) All four recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their testimony against co-defendants in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ Election Interference Act (RICO) case. Case.
Lawyers for both sides immediately began blaming each other, and Willis’ office asked Judge Scott McAfee for an urgent protective order. Prosecutors said in a court filing that the leak was “clearly intended to intimidate witnesses in this case and subject them to harassment and threats before trial.”
Ultimately, the leaker turned out to be the attorney for another of Trump’s co-defendants: Jonathan Miller, who represents Misty Hampton, a former election official in Coffee County. In a hearing Wednesday, he argued that the disclosure was necessary to support his client’s case and that the deposition contained information the public needed to know. “All four of these people who made their offers in front of you laid out their request, everything was recorded, it was sent out for the world to see,” he said.
After hearing Miller’s admission, McAfee agreed to draft an arrangement that protected only a portion of the evidence shared during the pretrial investigation, a compromise between prosecutors and defense.
The leaked testimony revealed some new details about the plan to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
Powell told prosecutors that in the final months of his presidency she tried to convince Trump that she should be appointed special counsel to investigate allegations of election fraud. If he had done so, Powell said they would have confiscated voting equipment, possibly with the help of the military. She said she still believes there was “machine fraud” in the 2020 presidential election (the federal government’s cybersecurity agency found no evidence of flaws in the voting machines). She also said that she was in frequent contact with Trump in the weeks following the November 2020 election and filed a number of lawsuits challenging the state election results, despite having no experience exercising voting rights.
Ellis testified that Trump’s former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino told her he believed Trump and his close aides planned to remain in the White House regardless of the outcome of the many legal challenges brought by his lawyers. Ellis also said that she was initially unaware of the fake voter system and felt it had been intentionally hidden from her, although she did not explain why.
Chesebro, the lawyer who pointed out that Jan. 6 was the “hard deadline” for Trump’s election and that a new list of voters must be presented to former Vice President Mike Pence before Electoral College certification, told prosecutors that he flew to Washington on January 2, 2021 to be available for possible meetings with Trump’s campaign team, but was ultimately not invited to one. He insisted that he did not know what would happen at the Capitol and that he himself did not witness any of the violence on January 6, although he joined the crowd of protesters as they headed to the Capitol.
Then there’s Hall, who was accused of unlawfully accessing voter data and voting machines and was the first defendant to plead guilty in the Georgia case. In his statement, he said he considered himself a “water boy” and “political tourist” in the rural election office violation in Coffee County, Georgia. He claimed Robert Cheeley, another defendant, was the “brain trust” in this entire scheme. However, Hall testified that he was recruited to help find Ruby Freeman, a Fulton County poll worker who was targeted and harassed over claims she committed voter fraud.
2. Trump’s civil fraud defense begins
The former president’s lawyers began their defense in his New York civil fraud trial by calling Don Jr. back to the witness stand. Trump’s eldest son spent most of his time painting a bright picture of his family’s real estate empire and his father’s business acumen – “He’s an artist with real estate,” Don said. Jr.
Next came a series of expert witnesses who testified about the way the Trump Organization’s financial documents were prepared and how they compared to standard practices. Accountant Jason Flemmons testified that when valuing assets, it is common to consider a property’s future income streams. That can result in “completely different values” on a personal financial statement compared to a tax-assessed value, one of the biggest discrepancies the Trumps face in this case.
On his second day of questioning, Flemmons noted that Trump disclosed that 95 percent of his assets listed in his 2014 financial filings did not conform to generally accepted accounting principles, known as GAAP. But because Trump’s documents included a disclaimer clause – which Flemmons described as the “highest level of disclaimer available” and likened it to a “buyer beware” sign – the lenders would have known what they were getting into.
However, when lawyers from the attorney general’s office joined in for cross-examination, Flemmons admitted that he had personally worked on fewer than five financial documents, all of which were prepared before 2000. (The attorney general’s lawsuit focuses on Trump’s financial documents between 2011 and 2021.)
3. Trump formally requested a mistrial (and was denied)
After much fanfare over how he was allegedly mistreated in his New York trial, Trump’s lawyers finally did so and filed a motion for a mistrial with the New York Supreme Court, challenging Judge Arthur Engoron and his clerk, Allison Greenfield accused of bias.
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The motion noted that Engoron and Greenfield are both Democrats and that the activities listed, which Trump’s lawyers claim, serve as evidence of “apparent and actual bias.” For example, during the trial, Engoron allegedly published articles in his high school alumni newsletter that denigrated Trump, his two sons and his lawyers. Trump’s lawyers also claimed that Greenfield was given “unprecedented and inappropriate latitude” during the trial and accused the court staffer of appearing to “judge” the case.
In the motion, Trump’s lawyers also challenged the gag orders issued by Engoron that prevented Trump and his legal team from publicly posting or speaking about members of the bench. They argued that not being able to raise issues in court was “simply indefensible and certainly not consistent with avoiding the appearance of impartiality.”
The motion for a mistrial was filed while Trump’s lawyers were still presenting their defense. Meanwhile, an appeals court judge temporarily lifted the gag order and Trump and his campaign immediately resumed their attacks on the clerk.
It was Engoron’s responsibility to decide the motion, as he is the judge and arbitrator of the court, regardless of the content of the mistrial motion. As expected, he rejected Trump’s request on Friday, saying the arguments for a mistrial were “completely without merit.” Trump is likely to appeal the decision.
4. The process on secret documents will not be postponed – for the time being
Judge Aileen Cannon announced her decision on Trump’s request to postpone his trial over classified documents in May, and it was a (soft) no.
Cannon said the May date remains in place for now, but that it could be moved to a later date, particularly when the defense and prosecution meet in March for a scheduled scheduling conference. She noted that the case involves “an unusually large amount” of classified and unclassified discovery evidence, which can be difficult to access because some of it requires security clearance. Cannon pushed back several deadlines for filing and responding to pretrial motions.
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Although it wasn’t exactly what Trump’s lawyers were hoping for – they wanted this trial postponed after the 2024 election – they seemed pleased with Cannon’s ruling. “It is clearly in the best interests of justice that President Trump has adequate time to prepare and file motions as he works to thwart these hoaxes and march back to the White House,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said.
Some legal commentators have noted that by withholding her decision to delay the trial, Judge Cannon may have frozen the movement to set a quicker date in Fulton County Procedure.