Trump pursuing 'long-shot' legal strategy of venue change in D.C. election trial

 August 13, 2023

Former President Donald Trump, facing a criminal indictment in Washington D.C. in relation to his efforts to challenge the 2020 election results and subsequent Jan. 6 Capitol riot, has repeatedly called for a change of venue to move the eventual trial to a different court in a different jurisdiction.

A request for a transfer has been widely panned as a "long-shot" legal strategy that is unlikely to succeed, though the gambit could pay off politically for the former president in terms of public perception about his claimed inability to receive a fair trial in the nation's capital, NPR reported.

Indeed, if the Democrat-appointed judge presiding over the case rejects Trump's move for a change of venue and he ends up being convicted by a jury comprised of overwhelmingly Democrat-voting D.C. residents, that would strongly reinforce the widespread perception across the rest of the nation that D.C. is a staunchly partisan city that is highly unfavorably biased against Republicans.

Trump wants a change of venue

"The latest Fake 'case' brought by Crooked Joe Biden & Deranged Jack Smith will hopefully be moved to an impartial Venue, such as the politically unbiased nearby State of West Virginia!" Trump said in a Truth Social post immediately following the latest indictment from Special Counsel Jack Smith. "IMPOSSIBLE to get a fair trial in Washington, D.C., which is over 95% anti-Trump, & for which I have called for a Federal TAKEOVER in order to bring our Capital back to Greatness."

That idea was echoed by Trump's attorney John Lauro, who told NPR in a separate interview, "We're looking for a more diverse area that has a more balanced political jury pool. You know, the country is very, very divided politically right now, this is a very divisive indictment. It goes to issues of free speech and political activity."

"So, we're looking for a jury that will be more balanced. And West Virginia was a state that was more evenly divided. And we're hoping for a jury that doesn't come with any implicit or explicit bias or prejudice. So it makes sense to go to a place like West Virginia," Lauro added.

Just a few days later, Trump reiterated his prior claim in an all-caps post that said, "There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge 'assigned' to the ridiculous freedom of speech/fair elections case. Everybody knows this, and so does she! We will be immediately asking for recusal of this judge on very powerful grounds, and likewise for venue change, out of D.C."

Other Jan. 6 defendants have been unsuccessful in seeking venue change

Unfortunately for Trump, his move for a change of venue out of D.C., and particularly to West Virginia, seems unlikely to succeed for a number of reasons, according to NPR.

First and foremost is the partisan bias aspect of Trump's claim, for while it is true that Washington D.C. is overwhelmingly biased in favor of Democrats, West Virginia is nearly as biased in the other direction in favor of Republicans, given that nearly 70 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2020 compared to more than 90 percent of D.C. residents who voted for President Joe Biden.

On top of that is the fact that several defendants charged in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have similarly sought a change of venue out of D.C. but all have been unsuccessful, according to a mid-2022 analysis from CBS News.

Of the more than a dozen defendants who sought a venue change at that time, all were rejected by judges who in some cases dubiously asserted that partisan biases and prejudicial media coverage would be similar in other venues as they are in D.C.

It was noted that a couple of defendants who were unable to change venues opted for a bench trial with a judge instead of a trial by a D.C. jury, and while that worked out in favor of those who ended up with a sympathetic Trump-appointed judge, that wouldn't be the case for Trump himself, as his case was assigned to Obama-appointed District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who has ruled rather unfavorably for other Jan. 6 defendants who've come before her.

Venue unlikely to be changed, and especially not to West Virginia

NPR reported that in all likelihood, Judge Chutkan would reject a request from Trump for a change of venue, or at the very least would push back a decision on the matter until after a jury had been picked after going through the extensive "voir dire" questioning process to weed out overtly biased potential jurors who would be incapable of impartiality.

Only then, if Trump's attorneys were somehow able to sufficiently prove that D.C. was "uniquely biased" against Trump, such that it would be impossible to find 12 impartial jurors in the entire city, might Judge Chutkan consider a change of venue, but even then, it seems just as likely that she would transfer the case to nearby federal courts in the decidedly less Trump-favorable surrounding states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia than the admittedly pro-Trump state of West Virginia.

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