Trump legal news brief: Trump survives early 14th Amendment challenges to keep him off ballot — for now

While former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles are just starting to play out in courtrooms around the country, not all of the developments have been negative for the former president. Indeed, while Trump is charged with a staggering 91 felony counts in four criminal cases, in addition to a civil case that threatens his company’s ability to do business in New York, his poll numbers in the Republican presidential primary have remained strong.

Based on polling numbers alone, one might make the argument that the cases against him have strengthened his political position. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released last week shows him edging out President Joe Biden in 2024. But his prospects could change dramatically if he's found guilty of having committed crimes, with 45% of Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll saying they would not vote for Trump if he was ​​"convicted of a felony crime by a jury."

As court proceedings take a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, Yahoo News takes stock of recent rulings that have given Trump more reasons for optimism.

New York hush money

Stormy Daniels’ conflict-of-interest complaint tossed by grievance committee

Key players: adult film actress Stormy Daniels, Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina, attorney grievance committee lawyer Jorge Dopico, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Daniels's lawyer Clark Brewster, Judge Juan Merchan

A New York attorney grievance committee dismissed a complaint Tuesday filed by Brewster that alleged Tacopina had a conflict-of-interest in the hush money case because Daniels had prior contact with his office, The Hill reported.

In a letter, Dopico told Tacopina that “the Committee has determined to take no further action.”

“It seems that Stormy Daniels and her joke of a lawyer’s 15 minutes of fame have come to an appropriate end,” Tacopina told The Hill in an email.

In the case brought by Bragg, Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records stemming from a payment made to Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to cover up an alleged extramarital affair.

The trial is scheduled to begin on March 25.

Why it matters: The finding by the grievance committee confirms Merchan's September ruling on the matter. It clears the way for Tacopina's involvement in the case.

Classified documents

Judge rejects prosecution’s request to set deadlines, making trial delay more likely

Key players: Judge Aileen Cannon, special counsel Jack Smith, Trump co-defendant Walt Nauta

Last week, Cannon rejected a motion by Smith to set December deadlines for Trump's lawyers to identify which classified documents they would use at trial, ABC News reported.

While Cannon has so far said she would adhere to the May 20 start-date for the trial, she has promised to revisit that decision on March 1, a sign many observers believe indicates she plans to delay the proceedings.

Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump, has issued several rulings in Trump’s favor, including allowing Nauta to use his lawyer despite the government’s conflict-of-interest objections.

Why it matters: Trump has sought to either dismiss all the cases against him, or to delay them until after the 2024 election. With polling suggesting a possible steep drop in the number of voters who would support him if he were to be convicted of a felony, that's not particularly surprising.

Jan. 6 election interference

14th Amendment challenges fail to block Trump from ballot

Key players: Key players: Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace, Minnesota Supreme Court, Colorado Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court

Legal challenges citing section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which bars those who have "engaged in insurrection" from holding office in the United States, have been turned back in Colorado and Minnesota, UPI reported.

While finding that Trump “acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol with the purpose of disrupting the electoral certification,” Wallace ruled that the 14th Amendment was not clearly referring to presidents and allowed Trump’s name to remain on ballots in the state.

The case is now being appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Supreme Court refused a bid to have Trump’s name removed from ballots in the state’s Republican presidential primary. The justices left open the question of whether Trump could be barred from general election ballots.

Why it matters: While lower courts have given Trump hope that he will survive 14th Amendment challenges, the matter will almost certainly make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appeals court seems poised to narrow Trump gag order

Key players: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Tanya Chutkan, special counsel Jack Smith, Trump lawyer John Sauer

The appeals court heard arguments this week on the legality of the gag order issued by Chutkan on Oct. 16 that prevents Trump from making comments about court staff, prosecutors or potential witnesses ahead of the start of his trial on federal election interference charges, USA Today reported.

The three-judge panel seemed inclined to limit the scope of Chutkan’s order, which would give Trump a partial reprieve.

Prosecutors contend that Trump’s social media posts and comments about the potential witnesses in the case encourage harassment and threats against them.

Sauer argued Chutkan’s order muzzles “political speech at the height of a campaign,” and that his criticisms of those involved with the case are not meant as intimidation.

Why it matters: Trump has waged a public campaign against those who have accused him of wrongdoing, the judges overseeing the cases and the potential witnesses who may be called. He is betting that the courts will ultimately allow him to continue with that commentary.

Recommended reading

Salon: Capitol rioter gets sentence quadrupled after meltdown in court

The Hill: Former Trump Organization controller breaks down in tears at trial

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Tuesday, Nov. 21

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After a Colorado judge rules that former President Donald Trump “acted with the specific intent to incite political violence” on Jan 6, 2021, but allowed his name to remain on state ballots in the 2024 election, lawyers for the former president and the group who sued to keep him off ballots file separate appeals.

In Georgia’s sprawling election interference case, meanwhile, Judge Scott McAfee holds a hearing on whether to revoke bond for Trump co-defendant Harrison Floyd. Here’s the latest from the legal challenges facing the former president.

Jan. 6 election interference

Trump, plaintiffs appeal judge’s ruling in Colorado keeping former president on the ballot

Key players: Colorado District Judge Sarah Wallace, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)

Lawyers for Trump and CREW, the nonprofit group representing six Colorado voters seeking to keep Trump from appearing on presidential ballots in 2024, filed appeals Monday of Wallace's ruling last week, The Hill reported, that allows Trump to remain on ballots.

In a partial victory for Trump, Wallace agreed with Trump's lawyers that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution barring those who participated in "insurrection" from holding office did not specifically include presidents.

But Wallace’s ruling also concluded “that Trump acted with the specific intent to incite political violence and direct it at the Capitol with the purpose of disrupting the electoral certification.”

In its appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, CREW pointed to what it argued was the judge’s contradictory ruling.

“Because the district court found that Trump engaged in insurrection after taking the Presidential oath of office, it should have concluded that he is disqualified from office and ordered the Secretary of State to exclude him from the Colorado presidential primary ballot,” the group wrote.

While Trump’s lawyers applauded the part of Wallace’s ruling that allowed his name to remain on Colorado ballots, their appeal centers on her findings that the former president intended to incite political violence on Jan. 6. The judge, they said in their appeal, “made legal and factual findings wholly unsupported in the law, and these errors demand review.”

Earlier this month, Minnesota's Supreme Court refused to order Trump's name be removed from Republican primary ballots, NBC News reported, but left open the question of his inclusion on general election ballots.

Why it matters: The Colorado case is likely to be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Wallace's findings on Trump's role in the riot at the Capitol are all but certain to be litigated.

Georgia election interference

Judge modifies terms of bond agreement for Trump co-defendant

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, former Black Voices for Trump director Harrison Floyd, Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman

On Tuesday, McAfee heard arguments from prosecutors and lawyers for Floyd about revoking his bail over social media posts that Willis contends have violated the terms of his release, the Associated Press reported.

While McAfee stopped short of returning Floyd to prison over inflammatory messages posted to social media about potential witnesses in the case, he modified the terms of the bond order, preventing Floyd from publicly discussing witnesses and unindicted co-conspirators in the case.

Floyd is charged with four felony counts in the election subversion case, including allegations of harassing Freeman.

In her request to have Floyd’s bond revoked, Willis cited his recent posts on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, that included mentions of Freeman and attacks on other likely witnesses in the case.

In a court filing, Floyd’s attorneys wrote that their client “neither threatened or intimidated anyone and certainly did not communicate with a witness or co-defendant directly or indirectly.”

Why it matters: While Trump has challenged gag orders issued by judges over his constant social media attacks on court officials as a violation of his free speech rights, Floyd is the first co-defendant in Georgia to make similar attacks. If McAfee finds that Floyd violates the modified terms of his bond agreement, he could be jailed.

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Monday, Nov. 20

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A Washington, D.C., appeals court hears arguments for and against lifting Judge Tanya Chutkan’s gag order on former President Donald Trump in the federal election interference case and signals that it may scale back its overall scope. In New York, meanwhile, Judge Arthur Engoron denies a motion for a mistrial put forth by Trump’s lawyers on the grounds that he and his law clerk, Allison Greenfield, are unfairly biased against Trump. Here’s the latest on the legal cases facing the former president attempting a return to the White House in 2024.

Jan. 6 election interference

Appeals court hears arguments on Trump gag order in election interference case

Key players: Judge Tanya Chutkan, special counsel Jack Smith, Trump lawyer D. John Sauer, DOJ lawyer Cecil VanDevender, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia Millett

On Monday, Sauer told a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals that the gag order Chutkan imposed on Trump amounted to a muzzling of "the core political speech of the leading candidate for president at the height of his reelection campaign," NBC News reported.

Chutkan’s order restricted Trump from attacking prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses in the federal election interference case brought by Smith but allowed him to continue to go after the Biden administration and the Justice Department regarding the handling of the case. The appeals court paused the gag order earlier this month.

VanDevender told the appeals court that Smith’s office had “been subject to multiple threats” following inflammatory remarks by the former president and argued the gag order should remain in place.

The judges seemed skeptical of Sauer’s assertion that, despite possible threats made by his supporters, Trump should be granted "absolute freedom" to say whatever he wanted about the case.

But the appeals court judges also signaled that they may scale back the original gag order to give Trump leeway in responding to those who criticize him,Politico reported. "We have to use a careful scalpel here," Millett said.

The appeals court did not issue a final ruling Monday.

Why it matters: Trump has sought to try all the cases against him in the court of public opinion, linking the charges against him with an alleged effort to keep him from becoming president again. Should the gag order be lifted, he would be free to continue sharply criticizing Smith's team and those who may testify against him.

New York financial fraud

Engoron rejects Trump’s ‘nonsensical’ motion for mistrial

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, clerk Allison Greenfield, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise

On Friday, Engoron rejected a motion for a mistrial filed by Trump's attorneys on the grounds that the judge and his law clerk were biased against them, Bloomberg reported.

“As I have made clear over the course of this trial, my rulings are mine and mine alone,” Engoron wrote in his ruling. “There is absolutely no ‘co-judging’ at play.”

He described the arguments made by Kise as “nonsensical,” writing “my principal law clerk does not make rulings or issue orders — I do.”

Engoron added that “there is no factual or legal basis for a mistrial based on these allegations against my principal law clerk.”

Kise had argued that Greenfield had exceeded the annual amount she was allowed to donate in political donations, but Engoron noted that information, which was taken from an editorial friendly to Trump, was false.

Why it matters: From the start of the $250 million fraud trial brought by James, Trump has sought to portray Engoron and Greenfield as biased against him. Engoron has already established that the defendants in the case are liable for years of inflating their business assets, and the proceedings will determine the punishment in the form of penalties Trump, his adult sons and their family business must pay the state.

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