Legal Stalling Tactics and Lucky Breaks Boost Trump White House Bid

(Bloomberg) -- Delays in the classified documents case and the Georgia election interference charges against Donald Trump exposed a fundamental truth about the 2024 election: the legal system is not going to stymie the former president’s political momentum as many once thought.

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With just one of four possible trials certain to occur before Election Day in November, US voters will likely decide whether Joe Biden or Trump is president in 2025 without knowing the outcome of Trump’s myriad legal challenges, including his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attempted insurrection, or the charges that he knowingly hid classified government documents at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Political operatives and legal veterans say the long list of trial delays — affecting all but the hush-money trial underway in New York — stem from a combination of Trump’s luck, his lawyers’ willingness to bend legal conventions and the slow-moving pace of the US judicial system. He also gets the benefit of speaking to a pool of television cameras every time he enters and exits the courtroom.

Significant postponements in three of his four criminal indictments raise the stakes for the ongoing trial in New York involving Trump’s alleged falsification of business records to obfuscate hush-money payments to an adult film actress. The trial is expected to conclude sometime in June.

A conviction could mean probation or prison time for Trump, which would hamper his ability to campaign. Trump can, however, appeal any conviction resulting from the hush-money case, meaning that any sentencing or prison time would also likely be pushed after the election.

Another boon for Trump: the New York case is arguably the least serious of all four, both in terms of political damage and possible legal punishment, said Jon Sale, a criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. The downside: the witnesses in the case are recounting salacious details about the sex life of the former president and his relationship with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump has denied a sexual relationship with her.

“Trump is a master at denial and delay,” said long-time Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “He’s got a lot of experience with it, but he also has a Justice Department that waited a long time to get serious about prosecuting” the documents case, he said.

Just this week, two rulings broke in Trump’s favor. On Tuesday, Judge Aileen Cannon in the Florida documents case indefinitely postponed the trial, which was initially set to begin May 20. A Georgia court on Wednesday agreed to hear arguments in Trump’s appeal to remove District Attorney Fani Willis from the election interference case, which will likely result in a significant delay. Another case also involving Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election was cruising toward a trial this year, but got bogged down in February by the Supreme Court’s review of Trump’s immunity argument.

“President Trump and his team will continue to fight these unconstitutional hoaxes in the courts and the American People will ultimately hold Crooked Joe and his comrades to account this Fall,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.

Campaign Trail

The lack of courtroom commitments is also an unexpected benefit for Trump’s campaign aides, who had long planned for the presumptive Republican nominee to spend months on trial and off the traditional campaign trail. Now, Trump could be free to spend much more time holding rallies, attending fundraisers or meeting with advisers and supporters.

There is “no doubt” Trump’s strategy toward handling the cases has been successful, both legally and politically, Sale said. But it will only remain successful if Trump wins the election, he added.

“It was the political strategy to delay and it turned out the different events in the different legal arenas coincided with the legal strategy,” said Sale, who was asked early on to join Trump’s legal team but declined.

The lack of trials proceeding before November goes a long way to neuter one of the key challenges for Trump: 53% of swing state voters say they would be unwilling to vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime and 55% if he were sentenced to prison, according to a January Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll of voters in seven battleground states.

Trump has benefited from a combination of his legal strategy to delay court proceedings along with the unique circumstances of each case, said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division.

Documents Case

The classified documents case could have gone to trial this year had it not been for the federal judge overseeing the case giving air to Trump’s stalling tactics, she said.

Political operatives widely believe that case could be the most damaging to Trump. Ayres, the pollster, called that case as “strong as battery acid.”

“If any of us had done what Trump had done with the documents, not only would we be indicted now, we would be in jail,” he said.

McCord, who is now executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center, said a different judge may have stuck to the schedule and “not been so accommodating to Trump” on the classified documents case.

“It’s been a combination of the legal strategy, which is delay, and then certain courts and certain actions by some of the courts that have allowed that strategy to be successful,” she said.

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

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