Trump Accountability Scuttled By Judges’ Manipulation, Prosecutors’ Self-Inflicted Wounds

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 9: Former U.S. President Donald Trump and attorney Susan Necheles return from a break in his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 9, 2024 in ... NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 9: Former U.S. President Donald Trump and attorney Susan Necheles return from a break in his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 9, 2024 in New York City. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records last year, which prosecutors say was an effort to hide a potential sex scandal, both before and after the 2016 presidential election. Trump is the first former U.S. president to face trial on criminal charges. (Photo by Angela Weiss-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Only an extraordinary cocktail of strategic delay, judicial scale-thumbing and good old fashioned bungling could leave just one of four Donald Trump felony indictment cases likely to conclude (and quite possibly even to start) before Election Day. 

That future, long looming, became even more concrete this week. 

On Wednesday, the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed to hear Trump’s appeal of the decision not to boot Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case following her romantic relationship with a prosecutor she’d hired. Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, in a scathing March ruling in which he upbraided Willis for her decision making and conduct on the stand, had allowed her to stay on the case if she removed Nathan Wade, the prosecutor she dated. 

Much like the Jan. 6 case — we’re awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on the extent of Trump’s presidential immunity — litigation over this one spoke of the case must play out before the meaty merits can move forward. In short: delay. 

Special Prosecutor Jack Smith’s valiant effort to foresee and defang the Supreme Court’s pro-Trump feet-dragging in the Jan. 6 case was swatted down, making murky whether the immunity question alone — much less whether Trump incited an insurrection — will be cleared up before Trump potentially takes over the Justice Department.

Put an x through the Jan. 6 and Georgia election trials. That leaves perhaps the most straightforward, slam-dunk case: Trump’s indictment for hoarding classified documents in Mar-a-Lago after his presidential term and then lying about it. Luckily for democracy, the case is in the formidable, neutral, just-calling-balls-and-strikes hands of Judge Aileen Cannon (sigh). 

Cannon (and Trump) won the weighted dice-roll to get the case in the first place thanks, in part, to the many vacancies at the time in the Southern District of Florida. Why the vacancies? Because for some godforsaken reason, we are still playing by the “blue slip” rules, where the President’s judicial nominees are traditionally blocked unless they get a thumbs up from both home state senators. From 1956 to 2016, the Congressional Research Service found only three judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate despite lacking the two endorsements. 

Therefore: Cannon’s constant delays of the trial, essentially an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign, can be directly traced to President Joe Biden’s reluctance to even nominate judges for that district, knowing that whoever he picks will be rejected by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL). But I digress.

Cannon suspended yet another deadline Monday, in keeping with months of slow rolling and eyebrow-raising amenability to Trump’s dumb arguments. She’s successfully both kept the trial from proceeding and from giving Smith much substance on which he can appeal. She didn’t bother setting a new trial date — the better to get her name on the Supreme Court shortlist, should Trump be given the opportunity.  

No Jan. 6, no Georgia, no stolen documents. That leaves the New York case — where Trump allegedly disguised repayment to Michael Cohen for quashing the story about his affair with Stormy Daniels just before the election — as the only game in town. 

Polling has remained unfriendly for Biden. He’d made up some ground through the early spring, but still trails Trump (or is virtually tied with him) in the states that will decide the election. But many votersindependents in particular — say that a Trump conviction would disqualify him in their eyes. 

If that’s true, a conviction could decide the election. And if it does, it’ll happen in New York — Trump’s hometown, the cauldron of his celebrity and his potential downfall.

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