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Trump faces a primary campaign filled with court dates

The candidate to win the Republican nomination is leading in the polls and has wasted no time lashing out at his opponents at various rallies across the country

Donald Trump
Former US President Donald Trump at a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania on Saturday.LINDSAY DEDARIO (REUTERS)

Until the first Tuesday in November 2024, when he hopes to be re-elected president of the United States, Donald Trump has a calendar with dates marked doubly in red ahead of him. On the one hand, he’s facing three civil and two criminal trials, and this figure could rise if a new indictment is confirmed in Washington over election interference in 2020 and 2021, including the assault on the Capitol, together with a likely announcement of charges in Georgia, also for trying to subvert the election results. On the other hand, there are all the main dates for the primaries, where according to the polls he has a wide lead over his Republican rivals, exceeding 50% support in many of them.

The latest twist in a script right out of Hollywood came on Thursday, when a superseding indictment added three new charges in the Mar-a-Lago papers case, for attempting to destroy security camera footage and for obstruction of justice. In addition to Trump and his aide Walt Nauta, who has already pleaded not guilty, the new indictment included a third defendant, Carlos de Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago. De Oliveira, who started working as a valet two decades ago and was promoted to manager in 2022, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday in Florida to hear the charges.

If the start dates of the criminal trials remain unchanged ―March 25 for the Stormy Daniels case, involving the payment of hush money to silence an extramarital affair, and May 20 for the Mar-a-Lago case, Trump could secure the Republican Party’s presidential nomination before voters know whether he has been convicted of any of the charges (37 in the first case and 40 in the second, after adding the newest charges). But his criminal ordeal could still become more tangled if Special Counsel Jack Smith indicts him for 2020 election interference that led to the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol, and if the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, announces charges for tampering with the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state. That potential indictment could take place on September 1 or even earlier.

Trump’s first criminal trial, for falsifying business records to conceal the payment of hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence, is scheduled for March 25, 2024, less than three weeks after Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will vote in the primaries.

In Florida, Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump and enjoys his sympathies, has set the date for the start of the second criminal trial, for the Mar-a-Lago papers, at May 20, 2024, when most of the primaries will be over and the final stretch of the campaign will be getting underway.

Until election day, Trump will also face three civil trials, the first of which is scheduled for October 2, for alleged civil fraud in a case that is being investigated by the New York Attorney General, Letitia James, and which involves the tycoon, the Trump Organization and his eldest sons.

On January 15, 2024, the same day as the Iowa caucuses ―the start of the primaries―, Trump will be tried in a second defamation trial after the writer E. Jean Carroll sued for greater compensation ($10 million) after being disparaged by Trump again on CNN one day after learning that he had been sentenced to pay her $5 million for sexually abusing her in the 1990s and defaming her in 2019, when he was in the White House.

Two weeks later, on January 29, the Republican will face a fresh trial in a federal class action lawsuit that accuses him and his organization of promoting a pyramid scheme with get-rich-quick promises to lure clients while receiving “large secret payments” from the companies he was promoting. His Trump Organization has already been sentenced to a $1.6 million fine for tax fraud.

Defense delay tactics

Trump’s defense, on which he has spent $43 million so far this year, maintains that he cannot face trials just before the election, and has opted for delay tactics. In the Stormy Daniels case, he unsuccessfully tried to transfer the case from the state court that accused him to a federal court, which he considers more favorable to his interests, but a judge ruled on July 19 against the change of jurisdiction. In Florida, however, he was able to get Judge Cannon to delay the trial until spring, even though prosecutors wanted to start in December. In New York, Trump unsuccessfully sued Carroll for defamation, and tried to torpedo the Letitia James investigation, even filing a complaint against her. The procrastination strategy seems to have no other goal than to buy time for Trump to become president, which would give him the opportunity to install like-minded Justice Department officials or even to try to pardon himself if he is convicted in any of the cases. Neither an indictment nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running or winning the 2024 election.

Oblivious to despair, Trump continues to turn each judicial setback into an asset, underscored by the thunderous capital letters he uses in his messages on his app, Truth Social, where he accuses the Joe Biden Administration of persecuting him for political reasons. But he also has things to say about his Republican challengers in the party’s primaries. At a massive rally held on Friday in Des Moines (Iowa), the 12 opponents present, including second-runner Ron DeSantis, avoided criticizing Trump, a gesture that the latter did not reciprocate. On the contrary, he lashed out at them, especially at the governor of Florida, citing polls that suggest he would easily defeat Biden while DeSantis would lose to the Democrat. In just three minutes of speech he tore DeSantis to pieces, calling him an “establishment globalist” and “DeSanctis,” short for the nickname DeSanctimonious.

On Saturday, at a rally in Erie (Pennsylvania), one of the states that benefited him in 2016, he again criticized DeSantis and mocked the “ridiculous charges” against him, warning that prosecutors “have opened Pandora’s box.” “They impeach me, they indict me, they rig our elections,” Trump said. He urged investigations against Democrats if Republicans don’t want to risk losing their seats. The idea of an impeachment against Biden has gained momentum this past week among Republicans in Congress.

The criminal charges have been a boost to Trump’s fundraising efforts. Doubts about Biden’s age (he is 80, Trump 77) and the existence of Democratic candidates like Robert Kennedy Jr., who is reducing support for the president, also play in his favor.

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