The judge overseeing former President Trump’s election interference case suspended his March 4 trial Friday, saying she will set a new trial date after an appeals court weighs whether the case should be tossed because of his claims of presidential immunity.
The brief order from U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan makes official what she had already previewed — that she would need to push back the trial date to accommodate time lost to review Trump’s appeal.
The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals heard Trump’s arguments Jan. 9, expressing skepticism over his claim that former executives enjoy broad criminal immunity from prosecution.
Still, the court has yet to issue a formal ruling on the matter, prompting frustration from legal observers noting the overall delay it will cause in what had been Trump’s fastest-moving federal criminal case.
The delay comes after special counsel Jack Smith sought to leapfrog the appeals court, asking the Supreme Court to immediately weigh the issue.
But the high court declined, leaving the matter to first be reviewed by a three-court panel of the D.C. circuit.
Trump’s team is arguing he can only be tried by prosecutors if he is first tried and convicted by the Senate through the impeachment process.
His team argued just the opposite, however, when Trump was facing his second impeachment before the upper chamber for his actions related to Jan. 6.
John Sauer, Trump’s attorney, was peppered by the judges with a number of hypotheticals about the extent a president would be shielded from prosecution if they were not impeached for the conduct, such as ordering SEAL Team Six to kill a political rival or selling presidential pardons.
Sauer said his answer was a “qualified yes.”
In December, Chutkan was forced to suspend activity in the case for the duration of the appeal, noting the move would likely ultimately disrupt the schedule she had laid out, including the trial kickoff date.
“If jurisdiction is returned to this court, it will — consistent with its duty to ensure both a speedy trial and fairness for all parties — consider at that time whether to retain or continue the dates of any still-future deadlines and proceedings, including the trial scheduled for March 4, 2024,” she wrote.
Chutkan rejected Trump’s immunity arguments late last year.
“Whatever immunities a sitting President may enjoy, the United States has only one Chief Executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifelong ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ pass. Former Presidents enjoy no special conditions on their federal criminal liability,” she wrote.
Updated at 4:13 p.m. ET