Trump Lawyer Tells Judge a Georgia Trial Would Be ‘Election Interference’
A lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump argued in an Atlanta courtroom on Friday that putting his client on trial in the final stages of the 2024 presidential contest would be “the most effective election interference in the history of the United States.”
Steven H. Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, also asserted that if his client were to win the election, Georgia could not try him in the case until after he left the White House again. He cited the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which makes federal law “supreme” over contrary state laws.
Whether a president would in fact be shielded from prosecution while in office is not a settled legal matter.
Mr. Sadow’s comments, which were challenged by prosecutors, came during a hearing in the election interference case against Mr. Trump and 14 co-defendants that was brought in August by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga.
Ms. Willis wants the defendants to go on trial in August, but the presiding judge, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court, did not set a date on Friday. Mr. Trump is seeking to delay the trial, while another defendant, John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Mr. Trump after he lost the 2020 presidential election, is seeking to speed it up.
Judge McAfee scheduled the hearing to address motions not just from Mr. Trump, but also from a number of his co-defendants. He did not make any rulings from the bench, and gave few clues as to what he thought of the various arguments.
All 15 defendants in the case face conspiracy charges related to attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results and subvert the will of voters. Four other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and have agreed to cooperate with the government.
The arguments from Mr. Sadow, a veteran Atlanta defense lawyer, were the main event at the hourslong hearing on Friday, offering some of the first hints about Mr. Trump’s legal strategy in the case.
“Can you imagine the notion of the Republican nominee for president not being able to campaign for the presidency because he is in some form or fashion in a courtroom defending himself?” Mr. Sadow asked during the proceeding.
That led Judge McAfee to ask what the prosecution thought of the idea “that having this trial on Election Day would constitute election interference?”
Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor in the case, rejected it.
“This is moving forward with the business of Fulton County,” he said. “I don’t think that it in any way impedes defendant Trump’s ability to campaign.”
Mr. Sadow also argued that to have a fair trial on state charges in Georgia, Mr. Trump needed access to lists of the government’s evidence in a related federal case against him.
Last month, Mr. Sadow sent an email to members of the former president’s legal team who are handling the federal election interference case. In the email, Mr. Sadow said he wanted an inventory of “relevant material” that is “common to both of our cases” — specifically, F.B.I. reports and federal grand jury transcripts.
The F.B.I. reports and federal grand jury transcripts stem from the separate federal investigation into election interference following the 2020 election.
It is not unusual for a lawyer to ask for broader access to evidence, but Mr. Sadow’s motion is complicated by the fact that it seeks material from a different jurisdiction. The motion is being interpreted by many legal analysts as an effort by Mr. Trump to delay the Georgia proceedings.
In response to Mr. Sadow’s email, the lawyers in the federal case pointed to a protective order that “appears to restrict our ability to share information with others.” Mr. Sadow then filed a motion seeking Judge McAfee’s assistance.
The federal case is being brought by Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. It relates to Mr. Trump’s broader efforts to stay in power after the 2020 election despite losing to Joseph R. Biden Jr.
On Friday, Mr. Sadow told Judge McAfee that there was “remarkable overlap” between the Georgia case and Mr. Trump’s election interference case in Washington. He said that if he were unable to get his hands on the federal discovery, “the remedy is dismissal of the case.”
One possibility, Mr. Sadow said, would be for the Georgia court to wait until the Washington case was “completely over,” at which point, presumably, the information would be free for him to request. Or, he said, he could prepare a subpoena.
A solution to the conundrum, he said, “is going to take some time.”
For the bulk of the hearing, defense lawyers, including Mr. Sadow, argued motions challenging many of the charges in the 98-page indictment.
A lawyer for Robert Cheeley, a defendant and pro-Trump lawyer, argued that the indictment was an assault on the First Amendment rights of the defendants to engage in political speech.
The lawyer, Chris Anulewicz, said that defendants’ statements challenging the 2020 election result had been rebutted “by a ton of counter-speech” in the public sphere and in the courts, a sufficient remedy in itself.
Will Wooten, a deputy district attorney for Fulton County, said that some of the crimes listed in the indictment pertained to expression and speech, but that others did not.
For example, he said, conspiracy to commit racketeering — the central crime that all the defendants are charged with — was not about speech, but rather “a crime involving a corrupt agreement.”