The federal government’s election interference case against former President Donald Trump has been conspicuously removed from the court’s docket ahead of a March 4th trial date, leaving more questions than answers as motions from special counsel Jack Smith remain open on appeal.
The adjustment, first reported by the Washington Post, may signal what Smith has long feared — a review by the appeals courts on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity will effectively freeze prosecution of him until the highest court rules on his argument.
Oddly, the change did not appear on the official criminal case docket of U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who has said all proceedings would be suspended while President Trump’s December 7th appeal winds its way through the higher courts. The 45th president has long maintained that the federal government does not have the authority to prosecute him for words or actions surrounding the January 6th, 2021 riots at the Capitol while he was still in office.
Smith previously petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to undertake a speedy review of Trump’s immunity claims, which it declined to do, sending the matter back to lower courts and effectively delaying a decision by weeks or even months, dealing Smith a substantial blow.
A delay in the D.C. case makes it more likely that the first criminal case against President Trump to head to trial will be that brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who charged Trump with falsifying business records in order to facilitate a hush money payment to an adult film star. Critics have alleged that Bragg upgraded the charge to a felony while he has historically downgraded most charges during his time in office. A trial date has nominally been set for March 25th with a pretrial hearing on February 15th, but deference by the state court to a federal review of presidential immunity claims may set Bragg’s timeline back as well.
A March 4th start date in the D.C. case against Trump has been missing from Judge Chutkan’s court docket on a searchable website for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. An internal master court trial calendar distributed to media outlets on January 26th showed the case, indicating the removal was recent.
Judge Chutkan has made previous rulings that hinted at her willingness to extend the case further out than Smith would like. On January 24th, she set a new trial date for April 2nd. On Wednesday, after she set a March 18th trial date for another defendant, Chutkan said publicly, “I suspect in March I will not be in trial.”
In a December 1st opinion, Chutkan sided with Smith, arguing that the Constitution “did not bestow on [Trump] the divine right of kings to evade the criminal accountability that governs his fellow citizens,” adding his double-jeopardy impeachment claim defied “plain meaning, original understanding, and common sense.” However, Chutkan has no authority to allow the case to proceed while a full U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals conducts its review.
Chutkan’s next trial is scheduled to begin on June 2nd, indicating she believes the D.C. case against Trump will wrap by then. Spokesmen for Smith and Trump did not comment on the change.
Court observers are closely watching whether President Trump can succeed in his claims of presidential immunity, potentially inflicting a lethal blow to Smith’s case as well as that brought by Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis. Smith has repeatedly argued that President Trump’s legal team is pursuing all avenues to delay the trial past the November elections. If Trump were to win, he could arguably dismiss all federal cases against him in DC and Florida.