Former President Donald Trump, who is facing charges in Washington, DC for allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election, claimed on Sunday that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in the nation’s capital as he continues to rail against his latest indictment.
“No way I can get a fair trial, or even close to a fair trial, in Washington, D.C. There are many reasons for this, but just one is that I am calling for a federal takeover of this filthy and crime ridden embarrassment to our nation,” Trump said in a Truth Social post.
If he were to ask in court to move his federal criminal case out of Washington, DC, the former president would join three dozen January 6, 2021, riot defendants who have asked to move their cases out of DC.
No judges – even those appointed by Trump – have ever agreed. And appeals courts and other judges have overwhelmingly kept high-profile cases in the districts where charges are filed.
Several January 6 defendants have argued that there’s been too much pretrial publicity in DC for a fair trial and that the jury pool in the city would be too biased.
But the Supreme Court has previously held that trials can still be fair even if they have received widespread publicity, and the DC District Court has used specific questioning of potential jurors and instructions to try to ensure fair trials for January 6 defendants.
Just last week, prosecutors argued against a Capitol riot defendant’s change of venue request in the DC federal court, arguing that many politically known defendants, including Trump’s adviser Roger Stone, have been fairly tried in the downtown Washington courthouse.
The court also refused to move the trial of the co-conspirators of Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal, at a time when the city was also voting heavily Democratic.
“The fact that most District residents voted against Donald Trump does not mean those residents could not impartially consider the evidence against those charged in connection with the events on January 6,” Justice Department prosecutors wrote in a court filing at the end of July – an assertion that the judges of the DC District Court have widely agreed.
Still, Trump attorney John Lauro on Sunday cast doubt on the idea that Trump could receive a fair trial in the nation’s capital. In an interview on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Lauro suggested West Virginia as a more diverse alternative.
“We would like a diverse venue. A diverse jury … that reflects the characteristics of the American people,” Lauro said. Speaking to CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday, Lauro also advocated for cameras in the courtroom in order to show the public “what kind of prosecution is going on.”
When Lauro expressed similar concerns about a fair trial at Trump’s arraignment last week, the magistrate judge responded: “I can guarantee everybody that there will be a fair process and fair trial in this court. So let me just respond to that comment, Mr. Lauro, I’m certain of that.”
The DC appeals court has found that voting patterns shouldn’t play into where a trial is held and that national news coverage can work against the need to move a trial.
“Scandal at the highest levels of the federal government is simply not a local crime of peculiar interest to the residents of the District of Columbia,” the DC Circuit Court of Appeals found about the Watergate conspirators’ trial in 1976.
DC jurors on major January 6 cases, including an Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy case, sometimes spend days deliberating and have delivered nuanced verdicts, including some acquittals.
Trump’s latest indictment comes against the backdrop of the 2024 GOP primary contest. Republican candidates have largely sought to walk a fine line between knocking the former president’s growing legal troubles and not alienating his base of supporters.
GOP presidential hopeful Chris Christie on Sunday touted his experience as a prosecutor in the heavily Democratic state of New Jersey on Sunday as he told Bash he always got convictions on political corruption cases.
“So my view is, yeah, I believe jurors can be fair. I believe in the American people. And I believe in the fact that jurors will listen fairly and impartially,” Christie said.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who recently made his sharpest condemnation of Trump, told CBS on Sunday he “would hope” Trump can receive a fair trial in Washington.
Notably, according to the law in DC determined during the Watergate conspirators’ case and other appeals court decisions, defendants can ask for a change of venue, but if they are denied, they can’t appeal it until after the trial takes place.
That’s one reason why the January 6 defendants’ trials have gone forward without delay even though so many attempted to move their cases out of Washington, DC.
Other high-profile cases where defendants have tried and failed to move their cases then also failed to overturn their convictions later with appeals include the Enron-related trial of Jeffrey Skilling in Houston and Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who was tried in Boston.