Judge Sets Trump Classified Documents Case for Middle of 2024 Election Campaign

The federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump on charges of unlawfully retaining classified documents has set a trial date for May 2024, which comes amid the height of the presidential primary season and prior to the Republican Party nomination.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon, in her order, decided that the trial would take place in her home courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., drawing jurors from counties where Mr. Trump had strong support in his previous presidential campaigns.

She also laid out a calendar of hearings for the remainder of this year and the next, including those related to the handling of the classified material at the core of the case.

The scheduling decision came after a contentious hearing at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, where prosecutors from the special counsel’s office, led by Jack Smith, and Trump’s lawyers debated the timing of the trial.

The timing of the trial holds significant importance in this case due to Trump’s position as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, leading to potential clashes between his campaign schedule and legal obligations.

The trial is scheduled to start on May 20, 2024, after most of the primary race contests but less than two months before the Republican National Convention and the formal start of the general election season. Mr. Trump’s advisors have been clear that winning the presidency is his strategy to counter the legal charges, hence the attempt to delay the trial as much as possible.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Judge Cannon’s decision, but prosecutors expected her to select a trial date, most likely in the first half of 2024, and reject the Trump legal team’s request to postpone it beyond the election.

However, it remains uncertain whether the May 2024 date will hold, as Judge Cannon designated Mr. Trump’s case as “complex,” allowing for possible additional delays.

In a 38-count indictment filed last month by Smith’s office, the former president was charged with illegally retaining 31 documents containing sensitive national security information, violating the Espionage Act. He was also accused of conspiring with his personal aide, Walt Nauta, to obstruct the government’s efforts to recover the documents.

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The trial schedule was the first significant decision for Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020. She faced scrutiny after making rulings last year in a related matter that favored Mr. Trump but were ultimately overturned by a federal appeals court.

In her scheduling order, Judge Cannon aimed to strike a balance between the government’s request for an accelerated trial and Trump’s desire to postpone it indefinitely. She acknowledged the need for some basic case management while expressing concern that the government’s proposal to seat a jury in December was unusually fast and might hinder a fair trial.

Judge Cannon cited several reasons for allowing time to move the case towards trial, including the extensive volume of discovery evidence that Trump’s lawyers must go through, including over 1 million pages of unclassified material, nine months of surveillance camera footage, and more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. Additionally, there is additional discovery material from electronic devices seized during the government’s investigation.

During the hearing, Trump’s lawyers indicated that they might file motions arguing that he was authorized to remove documents from the White House under the Presidential Records Act and questioning the special counsel’s authority to bring charges. They also mentioned they might challenge the classification status of certain central documents and the validity of the grand jury process in Washington and Miami that led to the indictment.

Trump is also facing indictment in Manhattan on charges related to hush-money payments to a porn star before the 2016 election, with that trial scheduled for March 2024. Additionally, he has been informed of potential federal charges related to his efforts to remain in office after the 2020 election, and there is an ongoing investigation by the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., into his actions to overturn the election results in Georgia.

The Republican primaries will be held from January 15 to June 11, 2024. The Republican National Convention is set to be held from July 15-18, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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By Melinda Davies
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