Start of Trump documents trial postponed indefinitely, judge orders

Start of Trump documents trial postponed indefinitely, judge orders
Start of Trump documents trial postponed indefinitely, judge orders

The trial of Donald Trump in Florida, accused of illegally retaining classified documents after leaving office, has been postponed indefinitely, a judge ruled Tuesday, significantly reducing the chances that he will face a jury in one of the two federal criminal cases concerning him before the US election on November 5.

Mr. Trump, who is seeking to regain the presidency, was scheduled to go on trial on May 20 in the documents case filed by special counsel Jack Smith, but both the prosecution and defense had acknowledged that date should be postponed.

District Judge Aileen Cannon, appointed by Mr. Trump in 2020, said Tuesday that the trial would no longer begin on May 20, but did not set a new date. Ms. Cannon scheduled preliminary hearings to run until July 22.

Mr. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 federal charges accusing him of keeping sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate after leaving office in 2021, and obstructing the U.S. government’s efforts to recover them.

Mr. Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated him four years ago.

Mr. Smith faces significant hurdles in getting any of the federal cases against Mr. Trump to go to trial before the election. Mr. Cannon has yet to rule on several legal issues crucial to the documents case and has indicated that he supports Mr. Trump’s defense on some points.

In a separate case brought by Mr. Smith regarding Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to recognize that former presidents have at least some immunity from legal proceedings for official acts. It is very likely that this decision will further delay Mr. Trump’s election case, with lower courts having to determine which allegations against him are covered by this legal shield.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers said a trial in the documents case should not begin before the election, but they also suggested an Aug. 12 date in response to an order from Mr. Cannon to propose a timetable for the case. Mr. Smith proposed a July start date.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have worked to delay the four criminal cases against him.

“We find ourselves in an absolutely unprecedented situation where a defendant is potentially going to have the power to stop his own prosecution,” said Randall Eliason, a law professor at George Washington University and an expert on white-collar criminal cases. “This is an argument for a trial before the election.

Mr. Trump has been on trial in a New York state court since April 15. He is accused of illegally seeking to conceal bribes paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He was also indicted in a Georgia state court for attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

Mr. Trump has sought to portray all court cases against him as politically motivated.

Charges in the Florida case include violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the unauthorized possession of national defense information, as well as conspiracy to obstructing justice and making false statements to investigators.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll in April, nearly a quarter of Republicans surveyed and more than half of independents said they would not vote for Mr. Trump if a jury convicted him of a crime.

If any of these federal cases go before a jury before the election, it will likely be in the weeks immediately preceding November 5, sure to spark accusations of election interference from the team Mr. Trump’s legal position.

“Any judge would be hesitant to try a presidential candidate a month before the presidential election,” said attorney Kel McClanahan, who specializes in national security issues and has represented members of the intelligence community.

But a victory for Mr. Trump in November could mean that neither case will ever be tried by a jury. As president, Mr. Trump could order the Justice Department to drop federal charges or seek a pardon himself.

Mr. Smith’s team has imposed tight deadlines in the Florida case, arguing that the public has a right to a speedy trial. Prosecutor Jay Bratt told Mr. Cannon at a hearing that a trial in the fall would not violate Justice Department guidelines that prohibit taking investigative steps close to an election that could have an impact on the outcome of the vote.

Ms. Cannon has rejected two attempts by Mr. Trump to dismiss the accusations, but several of them remain unresolved. She also indicated that Mr. Trump’s claims that the documents were personal records could factor into how she instructs the jury in a future trial, a decision that could lead to an appeal by the prosecutors and further delays.



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