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Trump legal news brief: Judge Chutkan postpones Trump election interference trial until presidential immunity question is resolved

Yahoo News' succinct daily update on the criminal and civil cases against the 45th president of the United States.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan. (Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts via AP)

Judge Tanya Chutkan announces that she is postponing former President Donald Trump’s federal election interference trial until his appeals play out on the question of whether presidential immunity protects him from being prosecuted. A court spokesman for Judge Arthur Engoron announces that the ruling on the penalties former Trump, his adult sons and his family business must pay for perpetrating years of financial fraud will not be released until perhaps mid-February. This comes amid new developments in the case, including a budding plea deal with former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, who is reportedly set to admit lying under oath in the case. Here are the latest developments surrounding the man hoping to return to the White House for a second term as president.

Jan. 6 election interference

Chutkan indefinitely postpones Trump’s election interference trial

Key players: Judge Tanya Chutkan, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

  • On Friday, Chutkan vacated the March 4 start date for Trump’s federal election interference trial. In an order added to the court’s docket, Chutkan said she would reschedule the start of the trial after Trump’s appeals played out on the question of whether presidential immunity protects him from prosecution, USA Today reported.

  • Chutkan had earlier ruled that even though Trump was president when he is alleged to have committed the crimes charged by Smith, he could still be prosecuted.

  • The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has heard arguments on the immunity question but has yet to issue a ruling. If he loses, Trump is expected to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Smith has sought to keep the trial on schedule so that a jury could hear the case before the 2024 presidential election.

Why it matters: It became clear last month, when Chutkan scheduled other trials to begin in April, that the judge would be unable to keep to the March 4 timeline for Trump. For now, it remains unclear whether the high-stakes trial will take place prior to the election.

New York financial fraud

3 possible reasons Engoron’s ruling is taking longer than expected

Key players: New York State Office of Court Administration spokesman Al Baker, Judge Arthur Engoron, New York Attorney General Letitia James, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, court-appointed monitor and former Judge Barbara Jones

  • On Thursday, Baker told reporters that Engoron’s ruling on the punishment the court will hand down to Trump, his two eldest sons and his family business for years of carrying out fraudulent business practices could be delayed until mid-February.

  • “It’s looking like early to mid-February, as a rough estimate, and subject to modifications. But that’s the working plan now,” Baker said.

  • At the conclusion of the trial, Engoron had indicated that he would aim to have his written opinion released by the end of January.

  • At least three factors could account for the delay, experts say.

  • Weisselberg is currently in negotiations with prosecutors to plead guilty to having committed perjury when he testified during the civil fraud trial, the New York Times reported.

  • Specifically, Weisselberg’s testimony about his knowledge of the dramatic misrepresentation of the square footage of Trump’s triplex apartment in Manhattan came under scrutiny, Salon reported.

  • “Why has Judge Engoron not issued his decision on the Trump civil fraud? One reason could well be the news that the Trump chief financial officer may be pleading to lying to Judge Engoron in a way to help Trump,” Andrew Weissman, a former prosecutor under Robert Mueller, wrote Thursday on X. “And the Judge is waiting for that to support his decision against DJT. This [would] be another big nail in the Trump civil fraud coffin.”

  • Another possible reason for the delay concerns a report sent to Engoron on Jan. 26 by Jones, who he tasked with monitoring the Trump Organization’s finances. The report flagged numerous inconsistencies, Business Insider reported.

  • “My observations suggest misstatements and errors may continue to occur, which could result in incorrect or inaccurate reporting of financial information to third parties,” Jones wrote.

  • In a post on X, University of Michigan law professor and former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade speculated that Jones’s report “appears to be delaying Judge Engoron’s verdict in Trump case.”

  • Lastly, and least surprising, Trump and his co-defendants are all but certain to appeal Engoron’s ruling, which could cost the former president hundreds of millions of dollars and forbid him from doing business in the state of New York. For that reason alone, Engoron may simply be working to ensure that his decision will stand up to the inevitable challenges that will follow.

Why it matters: The possible Weisselberg plea deal and Jones’s findings of errors bode well for James, who is asking the court to fine the defendants $370 million.

Recommended reading

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Thursday, February 1

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A new report alleges that special counsel Jack Smith’s team of investigators questioned witnesses in the classified documents investigation about a “hidden room” and a locked closet at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and country club that they did not search in their 2022 raid of the property. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis reportedly has no plans to recuse herself in the Georgia election interference case against Trump and 18 others, despite accusations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with the lead prosecutor. In the United Kingdom, a judge dismisses a lawsuit brought by Trump seeking damages for the intelligence dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. Here are the latest legal developments surrounding the former president seeking to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

Classified documents

Smith’s team questioned witnesses about a Mar-a-Lago ‘hidden room’ and locked closet

Key players: Special counsel Jack Smith, Judge Aileen Cannon, former Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran

  • Prosecutors on Smith’s team have interviewed multiple witnesses in the classified documents investigation about a “hidden room” and a locked closet at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and country club that the FBI did not search during its raid of the property on Aug. 8, 2022, ABC News reported Thursday, citing anonymous sources.

  • Trump, according to sources, had changed the lock on a closet as Corcoran, his attorney at the time, searched the property for classified documents taken by the former president after he left the White House.

  • In the indictment, Trump and two of his employees are charged with mishandling classified documents and attempting to obstruct the efforts by federal investigators to retrieve them.

  • The government has recovered more than 300 classified documents to date from Mar-a-Lago, including highly sensitive war plans, but it’s unclear whether more remain missing.

Why it matters: Among the 32 felony counts Smith has charged Trump with in the documents case are two for obstruction of justice, each of which carries a potential prison sentence of 20 years. Prosecutors will certainly use the information gathered from witness interviews to try to establish Trump’s guilt on those charges.

Georgia election interference

Key players: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Judge Scott McAfee, Trump co-defendant Mike Roman, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade

  • Amid allegations of an improper sexual relationship with Wade that Trump and Roman say should disqualify her from moving forward with the Georgia case against them, sources told CNN that Willis has no plans to recuse herself.

  • Instead, Willis is preparing her response to the legal filing put forth by Roman and signed onto by Trump seeking to have the charges against them dismissed. While Willis plans to tell the judge that Roman and Trump are wrong about the law, she will also stop short of denying having a romantic relationship with Wade, sources told CNN.

  • McAfee has given Willis until Friday to respond in writing to the allegations and has scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing on the matter.

  • CBS News reporter Daniel Klaidman, the co-author of the new book Find Me the Votes: A Hard-Charging Georgia Prosecutor, a Rogue President, and the Plot to Steal an American Election, agreed that Willis was unlikely to recuse herself.

  • “CNN’s report is consistent with what I have been told by my sources. [Willis] has no plans to step aside voluntarily,” Klaidman told Yahoo News. “She is resilient and a fighter and has already been through a lot in this case, horrific racial and sexualized threats and even an assassination threat.”

  • Last week, the Georgia Senate approved legislation setting up a committee to investigate Willis for the allegations of improper conduct.

Why it matters: Willis is seeking to avoid any further delays in the trial schedule for Trump and 18 others charged with attempting to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election. The accusations against her could pose a serious threat to that effort, even if they are unlikely to result in her removal from the case.

Steele dossier

U.K. judge tosses Trump lawsuit seeking damages for ‘shocking and scandalous claims’ in Steele dossier

Key players: Judge Karen Steyn, Orbis Business Intelligence founder Christopher Steele, Trump attorney Hugh Tomlinson

  • On Thursday, Steyn dismissed a lawsuit brought by Trump that sought damages for the “shocking and scandalous claims” made in the Steele dossier, the Associated Press reported.

  • “There are no compelling reasons to allow the claim to proceed to trial,” the judge said.

  • Tomlinson said Trump had “suffered personal and reputational damage and distress” because of the unfounded details in the dossier, which was compiled in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

  • Put together by Steele, the dossier consisted of rumors and stories about Trump, including tales of sexual encounters with prostitutes in Russia.

  • Tomlinson called the contents of the dossier “egregiously inaccurate” and said it included “shocking and scandalous claims about the personal conduct of President Trump.”

  • Buzzfeed published the dossier in January of 2017. Lawyers for Orbis countered that the company had never intended for its findings to be made public and that Trump had waited too long to file his lawsuit.

  • Steyn agreed with the company.

  • In 2022, a U.S. federal judge dismissed a separate dossier case Trump brought against Steele, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that claimed Steele’s findings had been used to start investigations into Trump’s alleged ties with Russia.

Why it matters: Trump is facing mounting legal costs and the dismissal of the case in the United Kingdom will deprive him of another potential source of funds.

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Wednesday, January 31

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Former President Donald Trump announces on social media that he is in the process of interviewing various law firms to represent him in an appeal of a jury’s $83.3 million award last week to columnist E. Jean Carroll in the civil defamation trial. The announcement comes hours after one of his current lawyers in the case, Alina Habba, walked back her prior assertion that the judge had served as a mentor to Carroll’s lawyer, thereby tainting the jury’s decision. Here are the latest developments involving the former president seeking reelection in 2024.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

After Habba walks back ‘mentor’ claim, Trump says he is looking for new lawyers for E. Jean Carroll appeal

Key players: Trump lawyer Alina Habba, Judge Lewis Kaplan, columnist E. Jean Carroll, Carroll Lawyer Roberta Kaplan

  • Hours after Habba walked back her claim that the judge in the Carroll defamation case had served as a mentor to Carroll’s lawyer at a big New York law firm, thereby tainting the case against Trump, the former president announced that he was seeking to hire new lawyers to pursue an appeal of the $83.3 million a jury ordered him to pay the columnist.

  • “I am in the process, along with my team, of interviewing various law firms to represent me in an Appeal of one of the most ridiculous and unfair Witch Hunts our Country has ever seen,” Trump wrote Tuesday night on his social media platform.

  • Habba’s performance during the trial has come under sharp scrutiny, especially her frequent clashes with the judge, which experts say may have turned the jury against Trump.

  • Immediately following the jury’s decision in the case, Trump and his lawyers announced they planned to file an appeal.

  • In a letter written to the judge on Tuesday, Carroll’s lawyer said she reserved the right to seek sanctions against Habba for pursuing the false claim that the judge had been a mentor of Kaplan’s.

  • On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that two Trump super-PACs have so far spent $50 million on legal fees for the former president.

Why it matters: Trump is about to learn how much money he could be fined in the New York financial fraud case. He also faces four criminal trials, some of which will likely drag on into next year.

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Tuesday, January 30

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Alina Habba, one of former President Donald Trump’s lawyers, swiftly walks back an assertion that the judge in E. Jean Carroll’s latest defamation lawsuit was a “mentor” of Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan and that the relationship helped result in the jury’s $83.3 million judgment against Trump. In Illinois, meanwhile, the bipartisan State Board of Elections unanimously rules that Trump can remain on GOP primary ballots despite a 14th Amendment challenge brought by voters that would bar him for having “engaged in insurrection” by unlawfully seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The United States Supreme Court will ultimately decide whether the so-called insurrectionist clause applies to Trump. Here are the latest legal developments involving the former president, who is looking to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

In reversal, Habba says ‘mentor’ question ‘has seemingly been resolved’

Key players: Judge Lewis Kaplan, Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba, columnist E. Jean Carroll, Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan

  • Confronting the prospect of being sanctioned over her unfounded suggestion that Judge Kaplan had served as a mentor at a New York law firm to Carroll’s lawyer and that the relationship had been unfair to Trump in the defamation trials, Habba wrote a letter to Judge Kaplan Tuesday declaring that the “issue has seemingly been resolved,” Reuters reported.

  • Still stinging from the jury’s verdict on Friday in the second defamation trial that awarded Carroll $83.3 million in damages from Trump, Habba seized on a New York Post article that alleged Judge Kaplan had played a “mentor” role for Roberta Kaplan (no relation), when the two both worked at the same New York law firm in the early 1990s.

  • In a Monday court filing, Habba wrote to the judge that "the underlying defamation case tried last year, and the damages trial completed last week, were both litigations in which there were many clashes between Your Honor and defense counsel. We believe, and will argue on appeal, that the Court was overtly hostile towards defense counsel and President Trump, and displayed preferential treatment towards Plaintiff's counsel."

  • That prompted Carroll’s lawyer to respond to the allegation on Tuesday in her own letter to the judge. "I remember no direct interaction from that time period with Your Honor at all. This is hardly surprising since at that time, I was a very junior associate at a large New York law firm and Your Honor was one of the leaders of the Paul, Weiss litigation department," she wrote. Kaplan also told the judge that Carroll’s lawyers “reserve all rights, including but not limited to the right to seek sanctions" over Habba’s baseless motion.

  • Having read Kaplan’s letter, Habba then wrote the judge once again, saying that her filing had been misinterpreted. “The point of my January 29 letter was to verify whether the information in the New York Post article is accurate. Since Ms. Kaplan has now denied that there was ever any mentor-mentee relationship between herself and Your Honor, the issue has seemingly been resolved.”

Why it matters: Habba’s conduct during the second defamation trial has been widely criticized, especially her frequent criticism of the judge both inside and outside of the courtroom. While she has indicated that Trump will appeal the massive judgment against him, it appears the grounds for that appeal have, for now, been narrowed.

Jan. 6 election interference

Key players: Illinois State Board of Elections, Republican board member Catherine McCrory, United States Supreme Court

  • In a unanimous decision, the eight-member state board made up of four Democrats and four Republicans ruled Trump’s name could remain on the Illinois Republican primary ballot despite a 14th Amendment challenge by voters seeking to remove him, the Associated Press reported.

  • Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars those who swore an oath to the Constitution but later “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.

  • In Tuesday’s decision, the Illinois board said it lacked the authority to bar Trump from appearing on ballots.

  • “I want it to be clear that this Republican believes that there was an insurrection on Jan. 6. There’s no doubt in my mind that he manipulated, instigated, aided and abetted an insurrection on Jan. 6,” McCrory said of her vote, while adding that the board lacked the jurisdiction to remove Trump from primary ballots.

  • Illinois will hold its Republican primary on March 19.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Feb. 8 on whether Section 3 disqualifies Trump from ever holding office again, given his widespread efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: The 14th Amendment ballot challenges to Trump’s candidacy have yielded different results in different states. Colorado’s Supreme Court and Maine’s secretary of state have ruled that he is disqualified from running. Like the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Michigan Supreme Court have ruled that they lack the authority to keep Trump off Republican primary ballots. Ultimately, it will fall to the Supreme Court to settle the dispute nationwide.

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Monday, January 29

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Friday’s jury verdict ordering former President Donald Trump to pay columnist E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in damages for defamation is the first in a string of legal cases that could result in millions more in fines, the potential loss of his real estate empire in New York and even a jail sentence. Here are the upcoming courtroom actions involving the former White House occupant who is looking to be reelected president in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Judge’s ruling imminent on future of Trump’s business empire

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, New York Attorney General Letitia James

  • Engoron is poised to enter his final ruling on how much Trump and his fellow defendants must pay after being found liable for years of financial fraud in New York, the Associated Press reported.

  • The judge, who alone will decide the penalties, has promised to try to announce his decision by the end of the month, but has already ruled that the defendants overinflated the value of their assets in order to obtain favorable bank and insurance terms.

  • James is asking Engoron to fine the Trump Organization $370 million and prevent the company from ever again doing business in New York.

  • In September, Engoron canceled the company’s business certificates in New York, but an appeals court stayed that ruling.

  • Trump’s lawyers have argued that there were no victims in the case and that banks were repaid for loans made to the company.

Why it matters: Engoron is almost certain to hit Trump and the co-defendants with a hefty fine in the case, and could impose further restrictions on the company’s ability to conduct business in the state. Trump and his co-defendants are all but certain to appeal Engoron’s ruling.

Jan. 6 election interference

Supreme Court urged to find Trump ineligible to become president again

Key players: U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Tanya Chutkan, special counsel Jack Smith, Colorado Supreme Court

  • The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on February 8 on the question of whether Trump’s actions to contest the results of the 2020 election disqualify him from ever again holding elected office again in the United States, the Associated Press reported.

  • Section 3 of Article 14 bars those who swore an oath to the Constitution but later “engaged in insurrection” from holding office, and the Colorado high court ruled that was grounds to remove his name from ballots.

  • "Trump intentionally organized and incited a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol in a desperate effort to prevent the counting of electoral votes cast against him,” lawyers representing parties seeking to keep Trump off presidential ballots said in a court filing on Friday.

  • Trump’s lawyers contend that Section 3 does not apply to presidents and that Congress alone has the power to block candidates from appearing on ballots.

Why it matters: In addition to the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to remove Trump from state ballots, Maine’s secretary of state has also issued a ruling that he is ineligible to serve again.

Georgia election interference

Judge to hear arguments on Fani Willis misconduct allegations

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Trump co-defendant Michael Roman, lead prosecutor Nathan Wade

  • McAfee has scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing for arguments in a legal motion brought by Roman seeking to disqualify Willis from handling the sprawling election interference case against Trump and 18 others over her alleged affair with Wade, Bloomberg reported.

  • Last week, Trump signed on to Roman’s motion, asking the judge to dismiss all charges in the case.

  • McAfee has given Willis until Feb. 2 to respond to the allegations of ethical violations stemming from being involved in a romantic relationship with Wade while also paying for his services as a prosecutor.

Why it matters: While it remains unclear whether Willis or Wade will be forced off the case, the allegations of an improper relationship between the two has given Trump and his co-defendants ammunition they need to fight the case.

Hush money payment

Porn star payment could be Trump’s first criminal case to go to court

Key players: Adult film star Stormy Daniels, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

  • With the federal election interference case against Trump on hold until his appeals play out on the question whether presidential immunity protects him from being prosecuted, Bragg’s hush money case, which is slated to begin on March 25, could be Trump’s first criminal case to go to trial, the New York Times reported.

  • Trump is charged with 34 felony counts in the case that involves allegations that he falsified business records so as to conceal a $130,000 payment to Daniels in order to hide an alleged sexual affair, thereby keeping voters in the 2016 election from knowing about it.

  • In a radio interview last month, Bragg said that the heart of the case was “about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

Why it matters: If found guilty by a jury in the hush money case, Trump, for the first time, could face time behind bars. But the criminal trial will also certainly include the sordid details of Trump’s relationships with Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal and his efforts to keep them hidden.