Three different prosecutors want to put Donald J. Trump on trial in four different cities next year, all before Memorial Day and in the midst of his presidential campaign.
It will be nearly impossible to pull off.
A morass of delays, court backlogs and legal skirmishes awaits, interviews with nearly two dozen current and former prosecutors, judges, legal experts and people involved in the Trump cases show. Some experts predicted that only one or two trials will take place next year; one speculated that none of the four Trump cases will start before the election.
It would be virtually unheard of for any defendant to play a game of courthouse Twister like this, let alone one who is also the leading contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency. And between the extensive legal arguments that must take place before a trial can begin — not to mention that the trials themselves could last weeks or months — there are simply not enough boxes on the calendar to squeeze in all the former president’s trials.
“This is something that is not normal,” said Jeffrey Bellin, a former federal prosecutor in Washington who now teaches criminal procedure at William & Mary Law School and believes that Mr. Trump might only be on trial once next year. “While each of the cases seems at this point to be strong, there’s only so much you can ask a defendant to do at one time.”
Any delay would represent a victory for Mr. Trump, who denies all wrongdoing and who could exploit the timeline to undermine the cases against him. Less time sitting in a courtroom equals more time hitting the campaign trail, and his advisers have not tried to hide that Mr. Trump hopes to overcome his legal troubles by winning the presidency.
If his lawyers manage to drag out the trials into 2025 or beyond — potentially during a second Trump administration — Mr. Trump could seek to pardon himself or order his Justice Department to shut down the federal cases. And although he could not control the state prosecutions in Georgia or Manhattan, the Justice Department has long held that a sitting president cannot be criminally prosecuted, which very likely applies to state cases as well.
Ultimately, the judges overseeing the four cases might have to coordinate so that Mr. Trump’s lawyers can adequately prepare his defense without needlessly delaying the trials. Judges are permitted under ethics rules to confer with one another to efficiently administer the business of their courts, experts said, and they periodically do so.
“The four indictments can appear to resemble four cars converging on an intersection that has no lights or stop signs — but that won’t happen,” said Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics professor at New York University School of Law. “Well before the intersection, the judges will figure it out.”
For now, Mr. Trump’s court schedule looks to be nearly as crowded as his campaign calendar, with potential trials overlapping with key dates in the Republican primary season. Claiming he is a victim of a weaponized justice system that is seeking to bar him from office, Mr. Trump may end up bringing his campaign to the courthouse steps.
A federal special counsel, Jack Smith, has proposed Jan. 2 of next year (two weeks before the Iowa caucuses) as a date for Mr. Trump to stand trial in Washington on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election. In a Thursday night court filing, Mr. Trump’s lawyers countered with a proposed date of April 2026.
Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney who this week announced racketeering charges against Mr. Trump, accusing him of orchestrating a “criminal enterprise” to reverse Georgia’s election results, wants that trial to begin on March 4 (the day before Super Tuesday).
Mr. Smith’s recent case in Washington, and Ms. Willis’s in Georgia, were filed after Mr. Trump was already scheduled for two additional criminal trials next spring: in New York, on March 25, on state charges related to a hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels; and in Florida, on May 20, on federal charges brought by Mr. Smith accusing Mr. Trump of mishandling classified material after leaving office.
Although the New York and Florida indictments were unveiled earlier, affording them first crack at the calendar, some experts now argue that they should take a back seat to the election-related cases, in Georgia and Washington, in which the charges strike at the core of American democracy. Trial scheduling is not always a first-come, first-served operation, and deference could be given to the most serious charges.
In a radio interview last month, the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, said that having been the first to indict did not necessarily mean he would insist on being the first to put the former president on trial. However, he said, the judge in the case, Juan M. Merchan, ultimately controls the calendar.
“We will follow the court’s lead,” Mr. Bragg said.
There has not yet been any direct communication among judges or prosecutors about moving the Manhattan case, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Still, Mr. Bragg’s comments suggest that he would not oppose moving the Manhattan case, which carries a lesser potential punishment than the three others, backward in line.
“My own belief is Alvin Bragg will be true to his word and remain flexible in the interests of justice,” said Norman Eisen, who worked for the House Judiciary Committee during Mr. Trump’s first impeachment and believes that prosecutors might be able to squeeze in three Trump trials next year.
And Mr. Eisen, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued that voters deserve to know whether Mr. Trump was convicted of subverting the will of the people in the previous election before they vote in the next one.
“There could not be a more important question confronting the country than whether a candidate for the office of the presidency is innocent or guilty of previously abusing that office in an attempted coup,” he said.
The most likely candidate to take over Mr. Bragg’s March trial date would be Mr. Smith and his election interference case. Recently, nearly a dozen Republican-appointed former judges and high-ranking federal officials submitted a brief to the judge overseeing that case, arguing that the trial should take place in January as Mr. Smith has proposed and citing a “national necessity” for a “fair and expeditious trial.”
But this is the case in which Mr. Trump’s lawyers have asked for a 2026 trial date, citing the voluminous amount of material turned over by the government — 11.5 million pages of documents, for example — that the defense must now review. Mr. Trump’s lawyers estimated that to finish by the prosecution’s proposed January trial date would mean reading the equivalent of “Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace,’ cover to cover, 78 times a day, every day, from now until jury selection.”
In that case, Mr. Smith brought a narrow set of charges against Mr. Trump in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election, totaling four felony counts, and with no co-defendants.
In contrast, Ms. Willis’s election case is a sweeping 98-page indictment of not only Mr. Trump, who faces 13 criminal counts, but also 18 co-defendants, including Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City. Already, Mr. Meadows has petitioned for his case to be moved from state to federal court, and other defendants are likely to follow suit. That process could take months and could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, probably making Ms. Willis’s proposed trial date of March 4 something of a long shot.
The sheer size of Mr. Trump’s Georgia case, and the fact it was the last of the four cases to be brought, suggests any Georgia trial of Mr. Trump could be delayed even beyond next year.
It is exceedingly rare for a criminal defendant to face so many trials in such a concentrated period of time. The once high-flying lawyer Michael Avenatti seemed to be heading for three federal trials after he was charged in Manhattan in 2019 in a scheme to extort the apparel giant Nike; and, separately, with stealing money from Ms. Daniels, a former client; and in California, with embezzling money from other clients. (He was eventually convicted in the New York trials and pleaded guilty in the California case.)
E. Danya Perry, a lawyer who represented Mr. Avenatti in the Nike case, the first to go to trial, said the challenge was “sequencing the cases in a way that would be most advantageous” to her client. And because there was some overlap in the evidence, she said, the defense had to be careful not to open the door for prosecutors to introduce evidence against Mr. Avenatti from another of the cases.
“You’re not just trying the case in front of that particular judge,” Ms. Perry said. “Evidence from one case could bleed into other cases.”
Before any trial, Mr. Trump’s cases are also likely to become bogged down as his lawyers review and potentially argue over large amounts of documents and other case material turned over by the government. Certain judicial rulings could also lead to drawn-out pretrial appeals.
In the Florida documents case, disputes over the use of classified information could delay the proceeding as well. And in the federal court in Washington, which is already contending with lengthy backlogs amid prosecutions of hundreds of Jan. 6 rioters, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have suggested they plan to litigate complex constitutional issues, including whether some of Mr. Trump’s false claims about the election were protected by the First Amendment.
Even the jury selection process could drag on for weeks or months, as courts summon huge pools of prospective jurors for questioning over whether they harbor bias in favor of or against the polarizing former president.
Michael B. Mukasey, a former U.S. attorney general and longtime Manhattan federal judge, said because of the complex issues raised in all four of Mr. Trump’s cases, “I think the odds are slim to none that any of them gets to trial before the election.”
And Mr. Trump’s criminal cases are not the only courtroom battles he’s waging.
In October, he faces trial in a civil suit filed by Attorney General Letitia James of New York, accusing him, his company and three of his children of a “staggering” fraud in overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars. In January, Mr. Trump faces two civil trials arising from private lawsuits: one a defamation claim by the writer E. Jean Carroll and the other accusing him of enticing people into a sham business opportunity.
“We fully expect both cases to go to trial in January 2024,” said Roberta A. Kaplan, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the two private suits.
Although Mr. Trump need not be in court for the civil cases, he almost certainly will have to attend the criminal trials, said Daniel C. Richman, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor and now a professor at Columbia Law School.
“If you asked all the prosecutors in each case, they’d firmly and sincerely say that they want these trials to happen in the first half of 2024,” Mr. Richman said. “But wishing does not make it so.”
Maggie Haberman and Alan Feuer contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.