Donald Trump will stand trial in March 2024 for trying to overturn his 2020 presidential election defeat, one day before Republican voters in more than a dozen US states will decide whether to give him a chance to recapture the White House.
US Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday set a trial date of March 4 for the federal case in Washington, one of four criminal prosecutions the former president faces.
That is one day before "Super Tuesday," a potentially decisive date in the Republican presidential nominating contest, when states from Maine to California will hold their nominating contests. Opinion polls show Trump leading his rivals by a wide margin.
Chutkan's decision means that Trump will likely have to stand trial in at least three separate criminal cases while he is campaigning for the party's nomination to take on Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 2024 election. A trial date in a fourth criminal case has not yet been set.
He is also a defendant in three civil trials scheduled to take place over the coming six months.
Trump's lawyers had pressed for an April 2026 trial date, but Chutkan said they did not need that long to prepare.
"Mr. Trump will have to make the trial date work, regardless of his schedule," Chutkan said.
Trump said he would appeal, but legal experts say scheduling decisions cannot be appealed until a verdict has been reached. Trump's lawyer John Lauro said he would abide by Chutkan's schedule.
Trump is due to stand trial in New York on March 25 on state charges of concealing a hush money payment to a porn star. Chutkan said she would consult with the judge in that case to work out any potential scheduling conflicts.
A third trial is scheduled for May 20, 2024 on federal charges in Florida, alleging that Trump illegally retained classified records after leaving the White House and tried to obstruct justice.
A trial date for the fourth criminal case in Georgia has not yet been set. Fulton County prosecutor Fani Willis has requested a start of March 4, but Chutkan's decision means that timeline will likely shift.
Trump did not attend Monday's hearing. He has previously lashed out at Chutkan, saying, without evidence, that she is biased against him. Chutkan has warned that Trump should stop posting inflammatory statements online about witnesses or others involved in the case.
Trump has portrayed all four criminal prosecutions as politically motivated attempts to stop him from returning to power.
He has pleaded not guilty in three of those cases, and is due in Georgia on Sept. 6 to enter a plea in that case, according to a court filing on Monday. That case also stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat.
One of his 18 co-defendants in Georgia, his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is pressing to move his trial to federal court, where he might face a more sympathetic jury.
In Washington, Trump's attorneys said they need time to sort through the government's evidence, which totals about 12.8 million pages.
"This man's liberty and life is at stake and he deserves an adequate representation," Lauro said.
Prosecutors say much of the evidence consists of public materials, such as Trump's statements and congressional records. They said on Monday that they have handed most of it over.
Chutkan said Trump's legal team should have already gotten a good start. "Mr. Trump's counsel has known this was coming for some time," she said.