Florida Judge in Trump Documents Case Defers Decision on Trial Date

Florida Judge in Trump Documents Case Defers Decision on Trial Date
Former President Donald Trump is driven from the Alto Lee Adams Sr. U.S. Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., on March 1, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

FORT PIERCE, Fla.—U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon heard arguments today on former President Donald Trump’s request to delay the trial on federal criminal charges related to the retention of classified documents after leaving the White House, but did not make an immediate ruling.

Special Counsel Jack Smith sought to move the trial date from May 20 to July 8, while President Trump argued it should be pushed to after the November election. Failing that, President Trump suggested an August trial date.

President Trump was indicted in 2023 on 40 felony charges related to allegedly mishandling classified documents from the time he was in the White House, resulting in an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida. The former president has defended his actions and argues he is protected by the Presidential Records Act.

Attorneys for President Trump argued strenuously that the trial should not take place before the November presidential election.

“We very much continue to believe that a trial that takes place before the election is a mistake and should not happen,” Todd Blanche, an attorney representing the former president, said during the conference. He argued that it is unfair to the American people to keep President Trump in the courtroom when he should be on the campaign trail.

Much of the debate over the trial date centered on the scheduling of pretrial motions and, in particular, evidentiary hearings that are complicated in this case due to the evidence being classified documents.

President Trump’s attorneys argued that the 6th Amendment affords him the right to be present and to participate in the legal proceedings, while at the same time, the 1st Amendment affords him—and the American people—the right to engage in his campaign speech-making.

Defense attorneys argued that it is untenable for President Trump to be involved in multiple court cases at the same time, which are nearly certain to have overlapping hearing schedules.

Mr. Blanche asked how the prosecution could argue “with a straight face” that President Trump should be expected to fly back and forth to multiple courtrooms for trials with overlapping dates for hearings. The only reason for requesting an early trial, they argued, is to put President Trump on trial before the election.

“This is not a game,” Mr. Blanche said.

Mr. Blanche did allow that if the trial were not delayed until after the election, it could be moved to August or September.

Defense attorneys also argued that the case should be dismissed based on his claim of presidential immunity. The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Feb. 28 that it would consider this claim in relation to separate charges that he interfered with the result of the 2020 presidential election.

Defense attorneys argued that Judge Cannon should delay ruling on presidential immunity until after the Supreme Court renders its decision.

Prosecution Maintains No Reason for Delay

Mr. Smith attended the conference but allowed staff attorneys Jay Bratt and David Harbach to handle arguments concerning the timeline of the trial.

The prosecution maintained that it was in the interest of justice for the trial to be conducted quickly and that there were no impediments to doing so.

“This case can be tried this summer,” Mr. Bratt said.

He said conducting the trial then would not violate the Justice Department’s policy on trying cases with political implications before an election. “We are in full compliance with the Justice Department manual,” Mr. Bratt stated.

President Trump sat quietly and appeared to listen intently to the arguments, at times whispering with Mr. Blanche. President Trump’s two co-codefendants in the case, his valet Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira.

Judge Cannon, in November 2023, denied a motion from President Trump’s attorneys to change the trial date but said she would consider a delay, which is being argued today. She also decided to set new pre-trial deadlines for the case due to the “high volume” of classified documents to be examined in the discovery process.

President Trump was indicted along with two co-defendants—Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira—who also face charges for allegedly hiding and mishandling classified documents at the former president’s Florida residence.

Mr. Smith is leading the prosecution in both the classified documents case in Florida and the case regarding President Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, which is being tried in Washington.

Requesting Access to Classified Documents

Defense attorneys for Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira requested personal access to certain classified materials in the Florida documents case, but Judge Cannon ruled against the co-defendants’ request on Feb. 27.

“The Special Counsel has made a sufficient showing that Defendant Nauta and De Oliveira’s personal review of the materials produced in classified discovery would not be’ relevant and helpful’ to their defense,” Judge Cannon said in her ruling.

She added that “Defendants’ personal review of the contents of the classified documents are not ‘useful to counter the government’s case or bolster a defense.'”

“Defendants Nauta and De Oliveira still fail to provide any examples of documents produced in classified discovery that—if made available to them for personal review—would be helpful in countering the allegation that they conspired to help Defendant Trump ‘keep classified documents he had taken with him from the White House’ and ‘hide and conceal them from a federal grand jury,'” the judge said.

The defendants argued in previous court filings that some of the requested documents relate to pursuing a defense based on “selective and vindictive prosecution.”

They presented emails released through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that allegedly showed the White House coordinating with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on the court case. Defense attorneys are seeking additional materials through court discovery to have the case dismissed.

Prosecutors responded on Feb. 26 that the defendants’ arguments amount to a “conspiracy theory” and that they have thus far failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence.”

Jury Questionnaire Dispute

Most recently, prosecutors and defense attorneys finished creating a joint jury questionnaire and submitted it to the court on Feb. 28, establishing what questions will be asked of prospective jurors in the classified documents case.

Both sides disagreed on the list of questions. Prosecutors wanted it to stay filed under seal until after jury selection, saying that revealing questions in the high-profile case would be similar to giving out answers before a test.

“Potential jurors may have strong views about Trump, his co-defendants, or the Government in this case, and providing advance information about the contents of the questionnaire increases the risk that potential jurors may craft their answers to increase their odds of serving or avoiding service on the jury,” prosecutors said in court filings.

Defendants argued it should not be filed under seal and should be accessible to the public.

The initial list of proposed questions was revealed in court filings on Feb. 28, with notable disagreement between prosecutors and defendants on which questions should be asked of potential jurors.

Prosecutors objected to questions gauging jurors’ feelings towards police, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system, while the defendants objected to questions asking jurors if they believed the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen.

The final jury questionnaire—and the questions it will contain—is still to be determined.

Catherine Yang, Jack Phillips, and Caden Pearson contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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