Jack Smith Struggles To Hold March Trial Date For Trump

A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

Crunch Time!

It’s getting down to crunch time in the Jan. 6 case against Donald Trump. The March trial date is, believe it or not, right around the corner.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has been as firm as she can be under the circumstances in trying to hold that date. Special Counsel Jack Smith cited in a filing last night “the public’s strong interest in a prompt trial.” And Trump is doing everything he possibly can to keep that trial from happening before the election.

Trump’s entire defense strategy rests on running out the clock in the hopes he will be elected president again and can make this all go away. The delay strategy trumps any claims of innocence, substantive defenses to the charges, or Trumpian counter-narrative to the story the prosecution tells in the indictment.

Delay is really the whole ballgame. With all that in mind, here’s some of what’s happened since the last Morning Memo:

Trump: All Proceedings Must Halt … NOW!

Trump’s claim to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution is his best gambit to delay the Jan. 6 trial, and he’s trying to exploit it to the maximum extent possible. Why immunity? Because under the law, immunity protects officials from even having to engage in the inconvenience and hassle of legal proceedings.

With Chutkan having ruled against Trump on immunity, and him now having appealed her ruling to the DC Circuit, he filed a motion Thursday telling (rather than asking) Chutkan that all proceedings before her in the case must now stop because she lacks any jurisdiction to proceed as long as the case is with the appeals court.

That could pose a significant threat to the trial date, depending on how quickly the DC Circuit acts.

Jack Smith: Not So Fast, Buddy

In a short three-page response last night, Special Counsel Jack Smith conceded that Chutkan’s jurisdiction is very limited while the immunity argument is up on appeal. But Smith said Trump was taking it too far. Smith argues that Chutkan doesn’t need to issue the blanket order Trump wants halting all proceedings. That’s redundant, Smith says.

Instead, Smith says Chutkan can still hold the March trial date on the calendar, continue to rule on already pending motions, enforce the gag order against Trump as newly modified by the appeals court, enforce the terms of his release, and generally keep things moving forward so long as they don’t burden Trump.

For his part, Smith assured Chutkan that he will abide by all of his pretrial deadlines in hopes of saving the March trial date, even if Trump is excused from doing so for now.

Appeals Court Offers Clues About Trial Date

In a related development Friday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals was really tough on Trump in mostly upholding Chutkan’s gag order against him. It modified her gag order a bit, mainly by saying Trump can attack Special Counsel Jack Smith in the same way Chutkan allowed Trump to continue to attack the Justice Department under the First Amendment.

But what I found most notable about the ruling was how keenly aware the appeals court seems to be of the urgency of holding the March trial date. It dropped clues throughout the opinion that it is watching the trial calendar closely. Now, this was just one three-judge panel (not the entire appeals court) and so I don’t want to overread things. But the clues they dropped were notable:

  • The appeals court noted that it handled the gag order appeal on a “highly” expedited basis “because of the approaching trial date.” This suggests to me that it will handle the immunity appeal with similar alacrity.
  • “Delaying the trial date until after the election, as Mr. Trump proposes, would be counterproductive, create perverse incentives, and unreasonably burden the judicial process.” This suggests to me a general aversion to kicking the can down the road and an awareness that it has a role to play in letting this case get to trial.
  • “Mr. Trump has repeatedly asked to push back the trial date in this case for two additional years, and the district court has considered and denied those requests.” This suggests to me the appeal court gets the game Trump is playing.
  • “Delays also ‘entail serious costs to the [judicial] system’ … and frustrate the public’s interest in the swift resolution of criminal charges.” This looks to me like a warning shot across Trump’s bow.

Despite modifying Chutkan’s gag order, the appeals court was as solicitous of her as it could be, at one point writing: “In so holding, we fully credit the district court’s care and efforts while handling this complex case to bring the Order within First Amendment bounds.”

In short, the appeals court seemed to be saying to Chutkan: We’ve got your back on this.

How Critical Is The March Trial Date?

It’s super critical! But let me offer another caveat for you to have on your radar.

The judge in the Georgia RICO cases has signaled that the August trial date Atlanta DA Fani Willis wants may not be “realistic.” (While that’s disappointing, it’s also true that even with an August start date Willis didn’t expect that trial to be completed until early 2025, well after the 2024 election.)

If the Georgia case gets pushed back, as seems quite possible, that opens up more of the summer calendar for Chutkan to work with if her March 2024 trial date becomes untenable.

Trump Has Already Tested Modified Gag Order

Trump called his former Attorney General Bill Barr, a likely witness in the Jan. 6 case, a “coward” in public remarks over the weekend.

Rudy G Defamation Case Goes To Trial

The defamation trial of Rudy Giuliani in the case brought by Georgia election workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman is set to begin today in DC.

Trump Bluff Called

With Donald Trump promising to testify today in the New York civil fraud case against him, it was put up or shut up time – and he shut up. Trump on Sunday posted an elaborate rationale on Truth Social for why he wouldn’t testify after all, but it was never clear he was really going to take the risk of being cross-examined at this late stage of the trial.

Stick This In A Time Capsule

For the historian of the future trying to make sense of the Republican Party falling sway to Donald Trump and persisting in the self-delusion and excuse-making as late as 2023, the last 2 1/2 minutes of this clip will stand as peak example:

Texas Supreme Court Leaves Pregnant Woman In Limbo

In that horrible Texas abortion case that was the focus of the previous Morning Memo, the Texas Supreme Court late Friday put a temporary hold on the lower court ruling that a pregnant 31-year-old Dallas woman qualified for one of the exceptions to the state’s abortion ban.

It’s not clear when the state’s high court will rule or if the woman will wait around to find out or try to obtain an out-of-state abortion. The fetus has a fatal disorder, and the mother’s future prospect of bearing a child is at risk if she carries to term.

The case highlights the absurdity of the the so-called “exceptions” to abortion bans and the unworkability of courts adjudicating health care decisions in real time.

2024 Ephemera

  • WSJ poll: Trump leads Biden 47%-43% among registered voters nationwide in hypothetical one-on-one general election matchup.
  • Rolling Stone: Inside Trump’s Plot To Corrupt the 2024 Election With ‘Garbage’ Data
  • WaPo: Small segment of voters will wield outsize power in 2024 presidential race

Tucker Carlson Tries To Stay Relevant

The exiled Fox News host is launching what is being billed as a “subscription streaming service” but which seems to consist of posting videos to his website:

Tucker Carlson Network, whose logo resembles a red pill, will cost $9 a month—or $72 a year—and will initially be solely available through Carlson’s website, they said. Some of the content will be accessible without a subscription and will be ad-supported, while some interviews and monologues will be available exclusively to subscribers, who will have access to that content without ads.

The Ol’ Coverup By Indictment Trick

He Said It

Not a fan of the “see, even bad faith actors are calling it BS” genre, but if ol’ Peter Doocy ain’t convinced, well:

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Sandra Day O’Connor’s Experience As A Legislator Guided Her Consensus-Building Work On The Supreme Court

This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. It was originally published at The Conversation.

When Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, she was the last justice to have served as an elected legislator. She previously was a member of the Arizona state Senate and later its majority leader.

Continue reading “Sandra Day O’Connor’s Experience As A Legislator Guided Her Consensus-Building Work On The Supreme Court”  

Right Wingers’ ‘Anti-Woke’ Alternative To Disney Has Finally Arrived

This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. It was originally published at The Conversation.

As fanfare blares, female sprinters at the starting line suspiciously eye a man in a wig. A hulking, goateed wrestler slams a woman half his size to the mat. An ominous voice-over intones that women’s sports are being “trans-formed.”

Continue reading “Right Wingers’ ‘Anti-Woke’ Alternative To Disney Has Finally Arrived”  

Suspect In MLK Home Arson Posted About ‘Cult’ Leader

The woman who was arrested after allegedly attempting to burn down Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home appears to have posted about the imprisoned leader of a controversial conspiracy-fueled Black supremacist sect in the hours leading up to the incident. 

Continue reading “Suspect In MLK Home Arson Posted About ‘Cult’ Leader”  

About That University President’s Viral Video

You’ve almost certainly now seen or heard about the congressional hearing with elite university presidents (Harvard, Penn, MIT) coldly arguing the need for context and invoking technical criteria when asked whether it would violate the university’s code of conduct to call for the extermination of Jews. The viral clip is genuinely jarring.

When I watched it I found myself asking not why are these administrators such terrible anti-Semites but how did you three possibly find yourself in this situation giving these answers?

Let’s start with some important stage-setting. First, the clip was posted by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a consistently odious and mendacious weasel who represents a district in Upstate New York. Stefanik is very much that person you’ll see melodramatically huffing and puffing in a congressional hearing demanding yes or no answers to gotcha questions that don’t have yes or no answers. And yet here … well, even for a weasel with gotcha questions, she seemed to have gotten them.

Continue reading “About That University President’s Viral Video”  

Listen To This: Democrats In Fragile Array

Kate chats with TPM’s Josh Marshall and Hunter Walker, along with journalist and lawyer Luppe Luppen, to discuss Walker and Luppen’s upcoming book about the future of the Democratic party.

Belaboring The Point is now on YouTube! Check out the latest video episode of the podcast here.

Continue reading “Listen To This: Democrats In Fragile Array”  

Texas AG Threatens Docs And Hospitals Who Comply With Court Order On Abortion

A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

Ken Paxton Is Being Awful Again

After a Texas state judge issued a restraining order to allow a woman to get an abortion under one of the state’s very narrow exceptions to its abortion ban, Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) issued a statement threatening health care providers who complied with the court order:

The 31-year-old woman who is 20 weeks pregnant faces a risk of not being able to bear children again if she carries the fetus to term. The fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition.

It’s a landmark case in the post-Dobbs landscape:

The case is believed to be among the first attempts in the nation to seek a court-approved abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year and allowed states to enact their own abortion restrictions.

The case showcases how exceptions to abortion bans are hard to invoke, difficult to navigate, and by the nature of their ambiguity give very little legal cover to doctors and hospitals.

Paxton exploits those difficulties by threatening to prosecute anyone who helps the plaintiff in the case. Note that chilling last line from his statement: “The TRO will expire long before the statue of limitations for violating Texas’ abortion laws expires.”


A fantastic bit of reporting from Texas Monthly on how the Texas Historic Commission was pressured into removing books about slavery from the gifts shops of two slave plantation historic sites it oversees.

Keep An Eye On Aileen Cannon

Donald Trump is trying to turn the Classified Information Procedures Act on its head in the Mar-a-Lago case. If U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon lets him do so, it will probably be the first appeal Special Counsel Jack Smith makes in the criminal case. Stay tuned.

Chesebro Is Cooperating Bigly

Former Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro, a key architect of Trump’s 2020 fake electors scheme is reportedly cooperating with investigators in multiple jurisdictions after pleading guilty in the Georgia RICO case.

Wisconsin Is Investigating Fake Electors Scheme, Too

Add Wisconsin to the list of state attorneys general launching criminal probes of Trump’s 2020 fake electors scheme, according to CNN.

Oregon Gets A Disqualification Clause Case

A new challenge to Trump’s eligibility for the presidency under the Disqualification Clause has been filed directly with the Oregon Supreme Court.

Hunter Biden Hit With Tax Charges

A new but expected federal indictment in California charges Hunter Biden with nine counts of tax-related crimes. It is a brutal indictment: graphic, humiliating, and no-holds barred. It alleges that Biden used the monies that he should have paid in taxes to instead lead a profligate lifestyle, and then proceeds to describe that lifestyle in minute and embarrassing detail.

If Biden were not a notorious substance abuser during the key period of his profligacy, it would be hard to have sympathy for him. As it is, it’s painful to read the unsympathetic account of prosecutors.

This story is so effing complicated: addiction, a president’s son who is a target of the previous president under whom the case was initiated, all the political dynamics up to and including the looming bogus impeachment of Biden’s father, roots in the impeachment of the previous president for extorting Ukraine for Biden dirt, the plea deal that blew up leading to this new batch of charges, separate federal gun charges in Delaware … so much here.

To go deeper, Marcy Wheeler is probably following all this closer than anyone else.

The Ziegler Files

Police have reportedly recovered the cellphone video recorded by Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler of the sexual encounter with the woman who alleged he raped her after his wife was a no-show for a planned threesome.

Fair warning that the description by the Florida Center for Government Accountability, relying on accounts of the video provided by two anonymous sources, is graphic:

Inside the apartment, Ziegler made a cell phone video of the sex act while she was bent over a piece of furniture in the bedroom, according to sources.

The video of the sex act is brief in duration and the victim can be heard telling Ziegler to climax in her mouth rather than on her new shirt, the sources said.

The new report suggests that the video may actually be more helpful than harmful to Ziegler, who has denied raping the victim and said the sex was consensual, but the nonprofit news outlet hasn’t see the recording itself, so a lot is riding on the accounts provided by the two unnamed sources. I should also note that the alleged victim told police that she had been home on her day off drinking tequila all day, another factor in assessing consent.


A simply horrific incident in North Dakota this week when a sheriff’s deputy was killed while trying to stop a fleeing car driven by Sen. Kevin Cramer’s 42-year-old son, who was going through a mental health crisis:

Ian Cramer, of Bismarck, was traveling over 100 mph and already had two flat tires when he slammed head-on into Deputy Paul Martin’s squad car on Wednesday, pushing it “directly into Martin’s person and launching him for about 100 feet,” according to charging documents. Martin, 53, was killed.

Ian Cramer is expected to make his first court appearance today on charges that include manslaughter, fleeing a police officer, and reckless endangerment.

2024 Ephemera

  • Former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) is the Democratic Party choice to run in the special election to fill Rep. George Santos’ seat. Suozzi beat Santos handily in 2020, then ran a losing race for governor in 2022 rather than seek re-election to Congress.
  • Jonathan Martin: Where Are All the Anti-Trump Republicans?
  • Rep. Brandon Williams (R-NY) claims that during a personnel dispute with two aides they threatened to expose his 27-year-old daughter’s OnlyFans account.

Friday Fun

Cole Brauer is a 29-year-old badass who is the youngest and only female competitor in the ongoing Global Solo Challenge, a nonstop single-handed sailing race circumnavigating the globe. She’s aiming to become the first American woman to race solo around the world.

On top of all that, she’s been cranking out super engaging content since she started the race in Spain on Oct. 29. She rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Dec. 3. When last I checked this morning, she was cruising along at 8 knots in the Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles south of Madagascar.

It’s not all fun and games out there. Earlier this week, she posted footage of herself getting thrown across the cabin and bruising her ribs in particularly rough seas. A week or so ago, the boat broached when the autopilot failed. But there are also days like this.

Enjoy your weekend!

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Folks, They Found the Tape

We have a new development in the case of the Zieglers, the power couple from the Superfreak faction of the Florida GOP. Initial reports noted that Christian Ziegler claimed he had videotaped the sexual encounter which his unnamed accuser later alleged was rape. He said he taped it; deleted it; then finally uploaded it to Google Drive. A kind of odd chain of events. But that was his story. The first reports said police hadn’t been able to find it.

Now they’ve found it.

Continue reading “Folks, They Found the Tape”