Trump cites US Supreme Court obstruction case as reason to delay criminal trial

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 6:11 PM

By Andrew Chung and John Kruzel

(Reuters) – Lawyers for Donald Trump on Thursday told the U.S. Supreme Court that the former president’s criminal trial on charges of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss should be delayed because the justices will hear a separate case in the coming months that could affect two of the counts against him.

In a new filing, the lawyers urged the Supreme Court to slow down the trial proceedings in part because the justices soon will weigh whether a defendant named Joseph Fischer who was involved in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack can be charged with obstructing an official proceeding. Trump has been charged with obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so.

Following this filing, the court could act at any time on Trump’s bid – filed on Monday – to freeze a judicial decision rejecting his claim in this case of immunity from prosecution.

“It makes no sense to conduct a complex criminal trial while a case is pending in this court that might invalidate half the charges in the indictment,” the lawyers wrote in a brief, referring to the four criminal counts brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in the case.

Thursday’s filing came in response to one by Smith on Wednesday that urged the Supreme Court to reject Trump’s bid to further delay trial proceedings as he presses his claim of presidential immunity. If the justices do not immediately reject Trump’s request, Smith asked that they take up the case and decide the immunity question on a fast-track basis.

Trump, the first former president to be criminally prosecuted, is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge President Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated him in 2020, in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

In a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory over Trump, his supporters attacked police, broke through barricades and swarmed the Capitol. Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters beforehand, repeating his false claims of widespread voting fraud and telling them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” He then for hours rebuffed requests that he urge the mob to stop.

No date has been set for the justices to hear the case involving Fischer, who was arrested in Pennsylvania.

“The nation has a compelling interest in seeing the charges brought to trial,” Smith said in his filing, adding that “the public interest in a prompt trial is at its zenith where, as here, a former president is charged with conspiring to subvert the electoral process so that he could remain in office.”

The indictment accused Trump of conspiring to defraud the United States, obstructing the congressional certification of Biden’s electoral victory and conspiring to do so, and conspiring against the right of Americans to vote.

Trump’s attorneys in their Thursday filing said a trial should not occur before the immunity dispute has been resolved, repeating Trump’s assertion that the case was politically motivated.

“The special counsel seeks to bring President Trump to trial and to secure a conviction before the November election in which President Trump is the leading candidate against President Biden,” they wrote.

Trump’s lawyers on Monday asked the Supreme Court to put on hold a Feb. 6 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejecting his claim of immunity.

They asked the justices to halt the trial proceedings pending their bid for the full slate of judges on the D.C. Circuit to reconsider the case, and, if necessary, an appeal to the Supreme Court. A March 4 trial date for Trump in federal court in Washington already was postponed, with no new date set.

Slowing the case could be to Trump’s benefit. If he wins the election and returns to the White House, Trump could use his presidential powers to force an end to the prosecution or potentially pardon himself for any federal crimes.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and John Kruzel in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)