The prospect of at least one conviction of Donald Trump in 2024 is “extremely high”, a former federal prosecutor has told Sky News.
Glenn Kirschner, a US attorney with 30 years of trial experience, spoke as he assessed the former president’s year ahead in court.
Mr Kirschner, a legal analyst for NBC/MSNBC News, said he believed that in at least one case, the judge and prosecution team “understand the need to punish this kind of wrongdoing with a prison term”.
Mr Trump faces 91 charges across four criminal trials. While he is not expected to face all four in 2024, some trial dates have been set. The first is 4 March for his alleged role around the January 6 insurrection.
In that prosecution in Washington DC, he faces four criminal counts related to an attempt to stay in power after the 2020 election: conspiracy to violate civil rights, conspiracy to defraud the government, the corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to perpetrate that obstruction.
Glenn Kirschner told Sky News: “I think the odds of a conviction are extremely high. It’s important to recognise who the witnesses are against Donald Trump. These are not Donald Trump’s enemies or opponents, these are not angry Democrats.
“Interestingly, the people we know are likely to be on the witness list are almost exclusively Republicans. Some of them are his own former cabinet members, his former attorney-general, his former vice president. I believe the testimony we will see will come from a chorus of Republican voices. It makes it much more difficult for Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, to say ‘they’re all out to get me’.”
In 2024, Donald Trump’s court diary will intersect sharply with election campaigning. The January 6 trial is currently scheduled to begin the day before Super Tuesday – 5 March – a significant day in the race to be chosen as a party’s presidential nominee.
Super Tuesday is a date typically in February or March when the largest number of US states hold primary elections and caucuses.
Then there is the Republican convention in July, when the nominee is selected. Depending on the speed and outcome of court proceedings, it may be that Republicans are faced with the choice of a convicted criminal as their candidate for the White House.
Election day takes place on 5 November 2024. The political picture could be shaped, largely, by the conclusions of judge and jury.
Donald Trump has enjoyed a “courtroom bounce” in the opinion polls and surveys have put him ahead of Joe Biden in several key battleground states.
There are indications that a guilty verdict could harm him, however. In a New York Times/Siena College survey in November, around 6% of voters backing Trump in swing vote territory said they would switch to Biden upon a conviction. It could be enough to swing the presidential race.
The prosecution of a former and, potentially, future president is unprecedented. As such, no one can be wholly certain of the sentencing that would follow any conviction or its practicalities.
On the prospect of a jail term, Mr Kirschner said: “Nobody knows if he will go to jail but given the nature of his crimes, assuming he’s convicted for essentially trying to bring an end to the peaceful transfer of presidential power, I believe the judge and prosecution team understand that if you don’t punish that dramatic wrongdoing, those democracy crimes, then you’re giving the next aspiring dictator a green light to do it all over again.
“I think both Tanya Chutkan (the Jan 6th trial judge) and Jack Smith (special counsel prosecutor) and his team understand the need to punish this kind of wrongdoing with a prison term, because that will not only hold Donald Trump accountable for what he did to the American people, but it will deter future aspiring dictators from following the Trump playbook and trying to do it all over again.”
In an effort to have the January 6 case dismissed, Donald Trump’s lawyers argue that it should be thrown out on the grounds of presidential immunity.
The presiding judge rejected the claim, prompting Trump to lodge an appeal, which is ongoing.
At the same time, the special counsel prosecuting the January 6 case, Jack Smith, has asked the Supreme Court to clarify the position on immunity. A definitive ruling by the highest court in the land would remove doubt and reduce delay.
Donald Trump has to be present in court for any prosecution and potential diary clashes mean that some, if not most, of the criminal trials he faces are likely to be pushed past 2024.
Beyond the January 6 case, Trump’s criminal card is marked as follows:
- New York: state charges of false accounting related to hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. A provisional trial date has been pencilled in for 25 March but it is almost certain that will give way to the January 6 prosecution, assuming it begins, as scheduled, on 4 March.
- Miami: federal charges of mishandling classified documents at his private home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, of making false statements and conspiring to obstruct justice. A trial date has been set for 20 May but that could well be delayed if the January 6 case goes ahead as scheduled, given that trial and sentencing could push it into May or beyond.
- Fulton County, Georgia: Trump is accused, along with others, of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He was named among 19 defendants originally, but that number has since been reduced as some of Trump’s co-accused have taken plea deals and could testify against him. The prosecution has asked the judge for a trial date of 5 August.
As well as his criminal exposure, Donald Trump already has civil court commitments. A judge in a civil fraud trial is due to decide early in 2024 what punishment Trump should face for lying about his net worth to secure cheap loans and insurance.
In January, he faces a civil trial to decide how much in damages he should pay to writer E Jean Carroll for defamation. He has already been ordered to pay her $5m in damages after a jury found him liable for sexually abusing Ms Carroll in a New York department store.
Barred from state ballots
As well as his legal troubles, the former president has seen two US states disqualify him from their ballot for the 2024 presidential primary election.
In a 34-page decision, Maine secretary of state Shenna Bellows ruled that Trump incited an insurrection when he spread false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election and urged his supporters to march on the Capitol.
Earlier in the month, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that he was ineligible for the US presidency under the constitution’s insurrection clause.
Trump is expected to appeal both rulings, with the final decision likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.