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This week in Trump's trials


DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Felony violations of our national security laws.

TRUMP: We need one more indictment...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Criminal conspiracy.

TRUMP: ...To close out this election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He actually just stormed out of the courtroom.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.


It's time for Trump's Trials. That's where we talk through the latest developments in the legal trials of former President Donald Trump, all playing out as he runs for president again. And a lot happened this week. Yesterday, the Supreme Court denied Special Counsel Jack Smith's request for the justices to fast-track a critical decision - whether or not Trump is immune from prosecution over alleged crimes committed while in office. Instead, that issue will work its way through the appeals court and likely still end up at the Supreme Court.

Earlier in the week, we had another major legal update that will also likely end up before the Supreme Court. Colorado's top court disqualified Trump from the state's presidential ballot, saying he engaged in insurrection, and that bars him from holding office because of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment. So we don't know when it will happen or what it will look like, but it is increasingly clear the Supreme Court will play a major role in all these cases and the presidential election next year.

A lot to talk about, and I'm joined now by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson to get into it. Carrie, glad to have you back.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Oh, happy to be here.

DETROW: What is your reaction to this immunity decision or maybe nondecision by the court?

JOHNSON: You know, it's hard to say right now what to make of it. The court is less than transparent. I'll just put it that way. They didn't give a reason for denying Jack Smith's petition to hear this quickly. They didn't tell us what the vote was. They didn't tell us whether there were any denials by any of the justices. And we also don't know whether Clarence Thomas has recused himself, as some Democrats on Capitol Hill had asked him to do. So I'm going to wait until we have a little more information to give a real take.

DETROW: This feels - to me, this feels like what the Supreme Court is for, right? Unprecedented legal case involving an election involving a president of the United States, involving key questions - how is the legal community responding to the court, at this moment, at least sidestepping the case?

JOHNSON: You know, Democrats, progressives in the legal community are adopting mostly a wait-and-see approach here, in part because they think this matter will get up to the Supreme Court. And that may happen relatively quickly. That's because the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has already scheduled oral argument on this immunity issue for January 9, and there's every reason to expect a quick decision from the D.C. circuit.

But lawyers are closely watching what happens from there. Will Donald Trump ask for the full appeals court to hear this? Will the Supreme Court be more willing to hear this immunity dispute quickly then? Of course, the trial date in Washington, D.C. really hangs in the balance here, as does a lot of Donald Trump's calendar for 2024.

DETROW: All right. So that trial was supposed to get started on March 4. You just said the appeals court is going to hear this on January 9. But Trump's legal team has been pretty clear here that there is a running-out-the-clock strategy, and that's because if he is the Republican nominee, if he's on the ballot, if he's elected president again, he would have the power to stop these federal cases against him. So what did this extra step mean? Or do we just not know at this time when it comes to how quickly that trial could start?

JOHNSON: We don't know. What we do know is for now, everything is on hold. And that makes a big difference because the jury selection in this case is going to take potentially a long time, maybe a month. And Judge Tanya Chutkan had asked a bunch of prospective jurors to show up at the courthouse in D.C. in early February, but now everything's on hold. So any kind of jury selection process is going to have to wait until we have more clarity from the higher courts.

DETROW: Yeah. And, I mean, we've talked a lot about Chief Justice John Roberts' larger mission to rehabilitate the reputation of the court and how, in recent years, that's gotten harder and harder and harder. What does this particular decision at this moment say to you about that goal here? Because we are talking about a big collision of huge, weighty political issues that seem to be on their way to the court.

JOHNSON: Huge, a huge collision - like a multicar crash, if we can put it that way.


JOHNSON: And one clue that we have is that no one recorded a dissent today from this decision not to hear the case now in a quick manner. And so it may be that the justices are largely in alignment about what to do next procedurally. If some justice really had a huge concern about delay and whether this meant Donald Trump could run out the clock, then they might have written something, insisted it come out today. But all we have is that one sentence from the court.

DETROW: And again, with that January hearing, is it possible that this could be just a matter of a few weeks' delay at this point in time? Do we just not know?

JOHNSON: We don't know. It's possible. But the rules of the appellate court give Trump the option of seeking a review from the entire D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and he has about 45 days to do that after the decision comes down. And then he has about 90 days to decide what to do next after that. If all of those deadlines are in play and in place now, like in a normal case, boy, that kicks us really, really far into 2024. The open question is whether the appeals court and the Supreme Court are going to make him hurry up in some way.

DETROW: Yeah. Yeah. And let's talk about another one of those cars in that multicar pileup of possible big Supreme Court cases for a minute. That's the Colorado Supreme Court case from earlier this week, the state Supreme Court ruling that Trump was ineligible to be on the ballot, saying he engaged in insurrection. We've talked about the fact that this is another case that seems like it's headed to the Supreme Court. We don't know what this timeline would be on that yet. Right? We haven't heard anything.

JOHNSON: No. What we're waiting for there is Donald Trump, who likes to delay. The ball is in his court about whether he said he wants to appeal, but he hasn't submitted a petition to the high court yet. And nothing can happen until he does that.

DETROW: And can you remind us - because, you know, we're back in that Trump news cycle where something is an enormous story, then another enormous story happens and kind of wipes your brain clean of the first one. And welcome back. Can you remind us what some of the key questions that the federal courts would be thinking about would be with this Colorado case?

JOHNSON: Sure. So this all revolves around that - the 14th Amendment, particular section of the amendment that Congress passed after the Civil War. And it basically allows for disqualification of people who previously took an oath of office and then engaged in insurrection. So there are a lot of questions when it comes to Donald Trump. Did he, in fact, engage in insurrection? He hasn't been convicted of that crime. Is this ruling by the lower court enough to disqualify him from the primary ballot in Colorado? Is the president considered an officer of the United States for purposes of the 14th Amendment and this particular section of the law? It's not clear. The president takes a slightly different oath than other people do.

And finally, whether Donald Trump had enough due process in Colorado for that state to take the really bold step of disqualifying him - everything there is on pause until January 4. And so for now, it seems he will be on the primary ballot. But, you know, this is an issue across many states, and the high court's going to have to weigh in here.

DETROW: Carrie Johnson, thank you so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.