Trump Lawyer Tells Judge a Georgia Trial Would Be ‘Election Interference’

A lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump argued in an Atlanta courtroom on Friday that putting his client on trial in the final stages of the 2024 presidential contest “would be the most effective election interference in the history of the United States.”

Steven H. Sadow, Mr. Trump’s lead lawyer in Georgia, also asserted that if his client were to win the election, Georgia could not try him in the case until after he left the White House again. He cited the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which makes federal law “supreme” over contrary state laws.

Whether a president would in fact be shielded from prosecution while in office is not a settled legal matter.

Mr. Sadow’s comments, which were challenged by prosecutors, came during a hearing in the election interference case against Mr. Trump and 14 co-defendants that was brought in August by Fani T. Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga.

Ms. Willis wants the defendants to go on trial in August, but the presiding judge, Scott McAfee of Fulton County Superior Court, did not set a date on Friday. Mr. Trump is seeking to delay the trial, while another defendant, John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Mr. Trump after he lost the 2020 presidential election, is seeking to speed it up.

Judge McAfee scheduled the hearing to address motions not just from Mr. Trump, but also from a number of his co-defendants. He said that he did not expect to rule immediately on any “substantive” questions raised on Friday.

All 15 defendants in the case face conspiracy charges related to attempts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results and subvert the will of voters. Four other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and have agreed to cooperate with the government.

The arguments from Mr. Sadow, a veteran Atlanta defense lawyer, were the main event at the hearing on Friday, because they offered some of the first clues about Mr. Trump’s legal strategy in the case.

“Can you imagine the notion of the Republican nominee for president not being able to campaign for the presidency because he is in some form or fashion in a courtroom defending himself?” Mr. Sadow asked during the proceeding.

That led Judge McAfee to ask what the prosecution thought of the idea “that having this trial on Election Day would constitute election interference?”

Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor in the case, rejected it.

“This is moving forward with the business of Fulton County,” he said. “I don’t think that it in any way impedes defendant Trump’s ability to campaign.”

There was similar sparring over other issues at the daylong hearing. Another question that was expected to come up was whether the state charges against Mr. Trump should be thrown out on the ground that his claims about voting fraud after he lost the 2020 election were protected by the First Amendment.

Mr. Sadow was also expected to argue toward the end of the day that to have a fair trial on state charges in Georgia, Mr. Trump needs access to lists of the government’s evidence in a related federal case against him.

Last month, Mr. Sadow sent an email to members of the former president’s legal team who are handling the federal election interference case. In the email, Mr. Sadow said he wanted an inventory of “relevant material” that is “common to both of our cases” — specifically, F.B.I. reports and federal grand jury transcripts.

The F.B.I. reports and federal grand jury transcripts stem from the separate federal investigation into election interference following the 2020 election.

It is not unusual for a lawyer to ask for broader access to evidence, but Mr. Sadow’s motion is complicated by the fact that it seeks material from a different jurisdiction. The motion is being interpreted by many legal analysts as an effort by Mr. Trump to delay the Georgia proceedings.

In response to Mr. Sadow’s email, the lawyers in the federal case pointed to a protective order that “appears to restrict our ability to share information with others.” Mr. Sadow then filed a motion seeking Judge McAfee’s assistance.

The federal case is being brought by Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. It relates to Mr. Trump’s broader efforts to stay in power after the 2020 election despite losing to Joseph R. Biden Jr.

In the morning, a lawyer for David Shafer, a former Georgia Republican Party chairman who is among the defendants in the state case, began the hearing on Friday by explaining to the judge why he believed central elements of the case should be thrown out.

Mr. Shafer was one of the Trump supporters who met on Dec. 14, 2020, at the Georgia Capitol and portrayed themselves as the legitimate presidential electors for the state, even though Georgia had been won by Mr. Biden.

Mr. Shafer’s lawyer, Craig Gillen, argued that the actions of the Republicans claiming to be electors were legal under federal law at the time, because a lawsuit challenging the election results, brought by Mr. Trump and Mr. Shafer in Georgia on Dec. 4, had not been resolved by Dec. 8, the deadline by which all state-level election challenges were supposed to be completed.

Given that circumstance, Mr. Gillen argued, it was up to Congress to decide between “contingent” elector slates from the two parties.

Will Wooten, a Fulton County prosecutor, called the argument “absurd.” Referring to the pro-Trump slate, he said, “None of them were presidential electors.”


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