Trump lawyers say Georgia charges violate 'free speech' and that he can't be tried while president

ByMarshall Cohen, Jason Morris, Nick Valencia and Holmes Lybrand, CNNWire
Saturday, December 2, 2023
Trump attorney: Trial during campaign would be 'election interference'
Trump attorney: Trial during campaign would be 'election interference'

ATLANTA -- Former President Donald Trump's lawyers argued in court Friday that his Georgia election subversion indictment should be thrown out because it "violates free speech," and that if he wins the 2024 election, the trial would need to be postponed anyway, until he completes his second presidential term.

They made the comments at an all-day hearing in Atlanta that featured arguments from attorneys for some of the other 14 defendants beyond Trump. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee held the hearing to address a slew of pretrial motions about the potential trial date, attempts to dismiss the charges and discovery matters.

McAfee did not issue any rulings from the bench during the roughly six-hour hearing.

This was the first in-court appearance for Trump's legal team in the Georgia case, where he and 14 others are facing a bevy of state charges, including racketeering or RICO, for their attempts to overturn the 2020 election. They have pleaded not guilty.

Trump's team argued that the indictment, filed by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, essentially criminalizes political activity that is protected by the First Amendment.

"You take the facts as alleged in the indictment... as applied constitutionally with the First Amendment, you'll find that it violates free speech, freedom of petitioning, all the expressions that the First Amendment is designed to protect, and therefore the indictment needs to be dismissed," Trump lawyer Steven Sadow told the judge.

If the case survives the motions to dismiss from Trump and others, Willis hopes to hold one large trial with all 15 remaining defendants. A trial date hasn't been set yet, but state prosecutors said they still want it to begin in August 2024, which Trump opposes.

"It's very possible at that time, that my client will be running for election for president of the United States for the Republican Party," Sadow said, adding that "the preference would be that he not be on trial during the time that he is campaigning."

At one point, McAfee asked Sadow what would happen to the case if Trump wins the 2024 election and the trial hasn't happened yet. The question illuminates the unprecedented challenges McAfee - and the nation - are grappling with: That the leading candidate for next year's GOP nomination is under indictment in four cases.

"Under the Supremacy Clause and its duty to the president of the United States, this trial would not take place at all until after he left his term of office," Sadow replied.

Fulton County prosecutors pushed back against Sadow's claims that the indictment is an attempt to interfere in the 2024 election and undermine Trump's chances of winning. Trump has claimed Willis, a Democrat, brought the case due to anti-Republican bias.

Prosecutor Nathan Wade said Willis "has no interest in interfering or getting involved in this presidential election" and that "her sole purpose is to move this case forward."

CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.

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