Trump Trials: Donald Trump Takes the Stand

John Taggart for The Washington Post
Donald Trump at the defense table in his civil fraud trial in Manhattan last month.

Welcome back to The Trump Trials, our weekly effort to keep readers up to date on the criminal – and civil – cases the 45th president is fighting in federal and state courts.

Let’s get started.

What’s ahead

Get ready: Trump – the man himself – is expected to take the witness stand on Monday in the civil fraud trial in New York against him and his family real estate business. He is accused of fraudulently inflating his property values to get better terms on loans and insurance. His son Eric said the former president is “fired up” to testify.

It will be interesting to see Trump’s demeanor on the stand given how contentious the trial has been thus far. Trump has derided the judge – and the judge imposed a gag order after the former president publicly criticized his law clerk.

Ivanka Trump is expected to testify on Wednesday.

This may be the only time Trump is actually is on the witness stand over the next year. Yes, he faces four criminal trials, but criminal defendants cannot be forced to testify.

Now, a recap of what you may have missed last week.


1. Florida: Federal classified documents case

– The details: Trump faces 40 federal charges over accusations that he kept top-secret government documents at Mar-a-Lago – his home and private club – and thwarted government demands to return them.

– Planned trial date: May 20

– What happened: At the hearing, Judge Aileen M. Cannon suggested the current schedule for pretrial motions, which would culminate in a trial in May 2024, may be unrealistic because of all the other legal demands on Trump’s time, particularly the federal case in Washington.

Cannon put her pretrial schedule on hold while she considers issuing an order to push back deadlines.


2. D.C.: Federal case on 2020 election

– The details: Four counts related to conspiring to obstruct the 2020 election results.

– Planned trial date: March 4

– What happened: Judge Tanya S. Chutkan scheduled jury selection to begin on Feb. 9, with hundreds of D.C. residents to be summoned to the federal courthouse to complete a written questionnaire about the case.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the case will start right on time in March. But it strongly suggests that Chutkan aims to move fast and stick to her schedule as much as possible – a contrast to what is playing out so far in the Florida case.

A limited gag order issued against Trump by Chutkan, barring him from attacks on the prosecutors, witnesses and court staffers involved in the D.C. case, is again on hold – at least for now.

The federal appeals court in D.C. agreed to pause – or, in legal parlance, stay – the gag order while the court considers whether such restrictions violate his constitutional free-speech rights, both as an individual and as a leading presidential candidate. That brings us to our . . .


Nerd word of the week:

The nerd word of the week is . . . Stay. Like calling a time out on a particular issue, stays are issued by judges to temporarily halt a ruling or a legal proceeding. The key word here is temporary. Judges may even issues stays of their own rulings, to give the losing side a chance to reargue or appeal the issue.


3. Georgia: State case on 2020 election

– The details: Trump faces 13 state charges for allegedly trying to undo the election results in that state. Eighteen people were charged alongside Trump, and four have pleaded guilty.

– Planned trial date: None yet.

– What happened: Lawyers for Harrison Floyd, a co-defendant in the case who worked for the 2020 Trump campaign, appeared in court to argue that their client is entitled to thousands of pages of election records from Fulton County and the Georgia secretary of state.

That’s some of the same material that election conspiracists have been seeking for years, and it highlights a novel legal theory that may be presented in court: That the 2020 election was actually stolen.

– Why it matters: State prosecutors allege that Floyd and other defendants “knowingly” lied. Floyd’s lawyers say they have the right to try to prove that the claims of election fraud weren’t a lie at all.


4. New York: State business fraud case

– The details: 34 charges connected to a 2016 hush money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

– Planned trial date: March 25

– Last week: No significant developments, but at the civil courthouse in New York, there was something of a Trump family reunion. The former president’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump both took the stand and sought to distance themselves from the allegedly fraudulent financial documents.

Eric Trump said his role with the Trump Organization focused on construction projects and development deals, not financial documents. Similarly, Trump Jr. deflected blame and said he trusted the company’s longtime accounting firm to ensure that all financial documents were accurate.

Question Time

How did Judge Aileen M. Cannon get assigned to Trump’s classified-documents case? Should she recuse herself because Trump nominated her to the bench?

We’re handing this question to our colleague Ann E. Marimow, who has reported extensively on Cannon and the judiciary.

Cannon first attracted attention when she issued a controversial 2022 decision that slowed the FBI review of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago. She was reversed by a unanimous panel of conservative judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

There’s been chatter within anti-Trump circles that the process to get Cannon to then oversee the criminal trial was somehow rigged. But that isn’t the case.

Special counsel Jack Smith made a conscious choice to bring the main classified documents case in South Florida, knowing there was the possibility it would be assigned to Cannon. Court officials said she was randomly assigned as trial judge in June following Trump’s indictment.

Federal law says a judge “shall disqualify” herself in any proceeding in which her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Legal experts say Trump’s role in putting Cannon on the bench is not itself a basis for recusal. Federal judges nominated by President Biden, for instance, routinely rule on his administration’s policies challenged in court. But a judge could be asked to step aside because of prior rulings that cast doubt on their ability to be impartial.