The former president is battling conflicting trial dates in a number of courts, and judges are now hopping on the phone to coordinate their schedules. In fact, two judges may have already double-booked him. (In March, Trump has three weeks to wrap up a D.C. federal trial that’s potentially six weeks long—before he’s due in New York for a state trial.)
But those private exchanges have caused some drama, particularly as Trump’s lawyers keep trying to push back his upcoming New York criminal trial for paying hush money to a porn star.
Over the fall, Justice Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the Stormy Daniels case, appeared willing to consider meeting sometime in September to discuss potentially shifting deadlines, according to information received by The Daily Beast. But he ultimately rejected the idea and ordered both sides to stick to the previous plan: to meet in court just a month before the porn star cover-up trial begins in March.
But he made it a formal order after Trump’s lawyers tried to peer into his private conversation with U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, according to court documents we obtained.
“No further disclosure is required,” Merchan said in a Nov. 9 order that has not been reported until now.
He also made clear that the former president’s legal troubles are so numerous, it’d be better to keep a semblance of order than add to the chaos.
“Indeed, adjourning this trial prematurely can only serve to further muddy your client's already crowded trial calendar and possibly result in even further delay,” Merchan wrote.
The New York state judge made his decision after prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office claimed in court filings that the quadruple-indicted real estate tycoon is simply delaying trial dates after overbooking his top defense lawyer across the Eastern Seaboard.
DA Alvin Bragg Jr.’s team is particularly pointing the finger at New York attorney Todd Blanche, who has quickly risen through the ranks to become Trump’s preferred lawyer in his Manhattan hush money case, the federal trial in D.C. over election fraud, and the hoarding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in South Florida.
Blanche’s rapid ascent has irked and pushed aside some fellow defense attorneys, according to two sources familiar with internal strife in the Trump camp. A third source said Blanche has managed to earn Trump’s trust by firmly pushing back on some of the politician’s stranger ideas, standing out in a sea of “yes-men.” But now Blanche is so inundated with cases that he’s trying to slow them down—and Manhattan prosecutors are crying foul.
The unstated reality is that the anticipated March 25 trial in Manhattan is awfully inconvenient for Trump’s attempted revenge return to the White House, forcing him into a dingy courtroom during the 2024 presidential primaries in New York and Wisconsin. And if the trial goes on for a few weeks, he could spend Pennsylvania’s primary day in court, too.
But keeping to that trial date is also unrealistic, given that it leaves only three weeks to complete a historic federal trial in the nation’s capital that starts the day before Super Tuesday—and essentially will be a condensed, criminal version of the House Jan. 6 Committee hearings.
Justice Merchan had previously scheduled a key court hearing in February 2024 to make sure the New York case is still on track, but also late enough to know where the competing D.C. and Florida trials stand as well.
Sometime in August, Blanche and his team of nearly a dozen defense lawyers asked Merchan to push up the scheduled check-in much sooner. After getting shot down, on Oct. 3 they formally asked him to reconsider, arguing that waiting until February might harm Trump’s “right to adequately assist in his defense, his right to assistance of counsel, and his right to be personally present at the trial proceedings.”
The real shocker, though, was what they used to justify this request: pointing to the private telephone call the New York judge had with Judge Chutkan in Washington over the summer, saying they wanted to know what exactly was said during that chat.
Trump’s legal team formally requested that Merchan “inform the parties about the substance of Your Honor’s communications with Judge Chutkan,” claiming the conversation impacted the former president’s “constitutional and statutory rights.”
In a Nov. 2 court filing response, prosecutors expressed some degree of surprise that this is coming up now, given that Chutkan brought it up during a D.C. court hearing back in August, when she said she “did speak briefly with Judge Merchan to let him know that I was considering a date that might overlap with his trial.”
A federal court transcript shows that Trump’s lawyers didn’t balk when Chutkan first mentioned it, but they seemed to have an issue with it later.
This month, Assistant District Attorney Caroline S. Williamson took MAGA lawyers to task for yet again finding a pretext to claim that next year’s trial in New York City is too soon.
Williamson castigated Trump’s “ongoing efforts to adjourn the deadlines in the other criminal cases that he claims will present an unavoidable conflict here,” noting the brazen way his defense lawyers are playing all sides.
She noted how Blanche showed up for an afternoon court hearing on Nov. 1 in Fort Pierce, Florida, to ask U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to delay his upcoming federal trial for stockpiling top secret records by pointing to Trump’s D.C. case—then, just hours later, the very same lawyer formally requested that Judge Chutkan pause the entire D.C. case while she considers their long-shot request to dismiss the entire legal battle over Trump’s supposed “absolute” presidential immunity.
In a court filing to Merchan in New York, Williamson told the judge “it would be a poor use of the court’s resources to discuss scheduling before the dust settles on defendant’s efforts to delay his other criminal cases.”
Taken in totality, Williamson’s description appeared to portray Trump’s legal team as actively engaged in a relay-delay game, playing judges against each other to push back court dates in all of his cases—like a child playing parents against each other.
Manhattan prosecutors also specifically called out the Trump legal team’s posturing that it simply can’t handle the sudden flood of work, pointing out how Blanche willingly became the former president’s point man on three of his four upcoming criminal trials. After all, it’s not exactly like he’s working alone.
Trump “chose all of the eleven attorneys representing him in this case—not merely the attorney who is also engaged on the D.C. and Florida criminal cases,” Williamson wrote. “The ten other attorneys on the defense team include experienced and capable counsel, many of whom have represented defendant and the Trump Organization for years.”
Aside from Blanche, that long list has included Emil Bove, Susan R. Necheles, Gedalia M. Stern, Joe Tacopina, Stephen Weiss, Steven Yurowitz, and others.
Manhattan prosecutors took an additional shot at Blanche, noting that he decided to take on the D.C. and Florida cases after the New York judge had specifically warned everyone in May to clear their calendars for this historic criminal trial that lay ahead.
Merchan advised prosecutors and defense lawyers “to not engage or otherwise enter into any commitments, personal, professional, or otherwise, that would prevent you from starting a trial on March 25, 2024, and completing it without interruption.”
Judging by what’s in the court documents, the only delay Manhattan prosecutors welcome seems to be if the D.C. trial scheduled to start on March 4 runs long. If Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith succeeds in convicting the former president for defrauding the nation in an insidious attempt to stay in power after losing the election, that would mean that Trump is already a felon by the time he shows up in New York to face a jury for faking business records to cover up his Stormy Daniels sexual affair.
At this point, there seems to be little reason for delay in New York other than an overlap with the D.C. election case. According to prosecutors, Trump’s team back in May already got the 5,000 pages of testimony, exhibits and witness notes that “comprise the core materials in this case.”
However, judges are increasingly losing patience for these types of Trumpian delay tactics. For example, in front of Chutkan earlier this year, Trump’s lawyers tried to delay the trial by warning that speeding along too quickly threatens “to go forward with the haste of the mob.” They cited a 1932 Supreme Court decision that disagreed with the way nine young black Black men and teenagers were indicted in Alabama for raping two white women, and all but one were immediately sentenced to death after one-day trials.
That didn’t go over well with Chutkan, who noted wryly that “this case, for any number of reasons, is profoundly different from Powell.”
“Mr. Trump is represented by a team of zealous, experienced attorneys and has the resources necessary,” she commented. “I have seen many cases unduly delayed because a defendant lacks adequate representation or cannot properly review discovery because they are detained. That is not the case here.”