Trump, special counsel back in federal court in classified documents case


▶ Watch Video: Why the Supreme Court ruling on Trump immunity claim will be historic

Fort Pierce, Florida — Just days after the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether he is absolutely immune from prosecution, former President Donald Trump’s legal team will be back in the courtroom Friday. This time, it’ll be a Florida courtroom, as the judge in the federal classified documents case against him considers when the case will go to trial.

In court documents filed late Thursday, prosecutors suggested a trial date of July 8, 2024, a little over a month after the current May 20 date. While Trump and his co-defendants have urged the court to put off the trial until after the 2024 presidential election, they also suggested in a court filing of their own that the trial could start on either Aug. 12 or Sept. 9, 2024.

Special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump in two separate federal cases: one focuses on his alleged efforts to resist the peaceful transfer of power that is based in Washington, D.C., and the other stems from allegations that he mishandled classified records.

The former case has been paused while the U.S. Supreme Court considers Trump’s claims of broad immunity from prosecution for alleged acts while he was president, an argument twice rejected by lower courts.

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, is overseeing the latter case from her courtroom in Ft. Pierce, Florida, about 70 miles north of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Prosecutors allege he unlawfully held national defense information at Mar-a-Lago from his time in the White House. Trump is charged with 40 counts related to that conduct and allegations that he and his two co-defendants, aide Walt Nauta and former maintenance worker Carlos de Oliveira, worked to obstruct the federal probe.

All three have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, and Trump has filed numerous motions to dismiss the indictment, arguing in part that he is immune from criminal prosecution as a former president and that the special counsel was unlawfully appointed. The Justice Department is expected to oppose the efforts.

The proceedings set for Friday in Cannon’s courtroom have been billed as a status conference during which the judge will hear arguments on whether May 20 will stand as the trial date.

“As the leading candidate in the 2024 election, President Trump strongly asserts that a fair trial cannot be conducted this year in a manner consistent with the Constitution,” Trump’s attorneys wrote Thursday, asking the judge to postpone the trial until after the upcoming presidential election. The attorneys conceded that if a trial were to go forward, late summer — either August or September — would be acceptable.

Cannon scheduled the hearing in November, after partially denying a motion filed by the former president’s legal team that sought further delay.

In the months that followed, the special counsel’s team and defense attorneys have sometimes had contentious exchanges over the briefing schedule to address the handling of sensitive government evidence under the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Earlier this month, Cannon ruled against Smith’s team when she permitted Trump and his co-defendants to file public motions in court that might contain protected information, including witness identities and testimony. The special counsel strongly urged the judge to reconsider, citing threats to witnesses’ safety, and has asked her to reverse course.

Prosecutors wrote that any public disclosure in court filings risks publicizing “numerous potential witnesses” and Smith’s team disclosed that an investigation into threats against one potential witness was underway.

In a court order Tuesday, the judge instructed the parties to prepare to discuss Smith’s request that she reconsider the order. Cannon also told them to be ready to talk about Trump’s request to compel the special counsel to hand over more evidence based on allegations of improper political influence in the case. Smith has rejected the assertions in court filings.

According to court documents, prosecutors have produced 12 tranches of unclassified records to Trump’s legal team in preparation for trial in addition to approximately 5,100 pages of classified materials.

Earlier this week, Cannon ruled Nauta and de Oliveira should be barred from reviewing the thousands of pages of classified evidence in the case, agreeing with the special counsel that it would not be relevant to their defense.

“The Special Counsel has carried his burden to withhold from Defendants Nauta and De Oliveira personally all classified discovery produced to date,” she wrote Tuesday.

Any ruling by Cannon concerning the trial schedule is likely to be affected — and complicated — by the former president’s schedule in other legal proceedings. New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s criminal case against Trump, which alleges he made hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, is expected to begin in March.

Meanwhile, Smith’s other case against Trump is currently in limbo, while the Supreme Court considers the former president’s efforts to claim presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Judge Tanya Chutkan previously set a March 4 trial date, but was forced to indefinitely delay the proceedings until the immunity issue is further litigated.

In both cases, the special counsel has said the public has a right to prompt resolutions, but it is unclear how Cannon might rule.

More about: