By Andrew Goudsward
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. judge on Wednesday paused the federal case accusing Donald Trump of attempting to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election while the former president mounts an appeal claiming he is immune from the charges.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said Trump’s ongoing appeal temporarily halts all activity that would move the case toward trial, which is currently scheduled to begin in March 2024.
Trump is appealing Chutkan’s ruling earlier this month rejecting Trump’s bid to dismiss the case based on an argument that he could not be prosecuted for official actions he took as president.
“This is a big win for President Trump and our rule of law,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement, adding that the ruling “derails” Special Counsel Jack Smith’s “rush to judgment strategy of interfering in the 2024 presidential election.”
A spokesperson for Smith declined to comment. Prosecutors have previously denied allegations of political bias.
Both Trump and Smith have acknowledged that the former president cannot face trial while his appeal remains ongoing. But Smith sought to keep some aspects of the case active, arguing that the judge could still conduct certain pretrial business in the case.
Chutkan ruled that she could enforce her past rulings, including the gag order that limits Trump’s statements about prosecutors and witnesses, while the case is paused. The judge said she would revisit whether to move the trial date once the appeal is resolved.
Trump has pleaded not guilty to four felony counts accusing him of attempting to defraud the United States and obstruct Congress through schemes to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden.
Trump’s appeal is viewed as his best opportunity to achieve his aim of pushing the trial until after the November 2024 election, where he is the frontrunner to face Democrat Joe Biden. His lawyers have accused Smith of attempting to rush the case to trial to damage Trump’s campaign.
Smith has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to bypass a federal appeals court and immediately rule on the immunity claim, an unusual move designed to blunt Trump’s attempts to stall the case.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Scott Malone, Mark Porter and Daniel Wallis)