Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump and federal prosecutors who accused him of illegally withholding highly confidential national defense documents began a first hearing Tuesday with the judge in charge of the case to discuss scheduling the trial and how to handle classified documents. material at the heart of the accusation.
The hearing, in US District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., marks the first time Judge Aileen M. Cannon has presided over proceedings in the case, parts of which may be closed to the public. Last month, the office of special counsel Jack Smith charged Trump with illegally withholding 31 individual classified documents and conspiring with one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, to obstruct repeated government efforts to recover them.
The hearing began hours later Mr Trump revealed that he had received the so-called target letter of Mr. Smith in a separate criminal investigation into his efforts to remain in office after his defeat in the 2020 election and the subsequent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The targeted letter was an indication that Mr. Trump could face impeachment at that poll as well.
The defense and prosecution in the documents case have clashed sharply over when the trial should begin. The government asked Judge Cannon to start the trial in December, but lawyers for Trump and Nauta responded with a request to postpone it until all “substantive motions” were filed and resolved.
The timing of the trial could be very important, especially if it is delayed after the 2024 election. If Trump, the current favorite for the Republican nomination, were to win, he could try to forgive himself after taking office or he could have his attorney general just dismiss the matter entirely.
In an order issued Monday, Judge Cannon told both sides that they should be prepared to discuss the trial schedule in court on Tuesday. Her decision will be an early test of how she handles the high-stakes prosecution of the man who appointed her to the court in 2020. While Judge Cannon was randomly assigned to caseit has drawn a lot of attention with rulings favorable to Trump in the early stage of the investigation.
Shortly after the indictment was returned, Judge Cannon scheduled the trial to start in August, although it appeared to be a pro forma date guided by a desire to meet the requirements for a speedy trial. In a presentation last weeklawyers for Trump and Nauta asked the judge to delay the trial indefinitely, citing that the discovery evidence in the case was extensive, that arguments over classified materials would be onerous, and that Trump, as a presidential candidate, had a grueling travel schedule. and campaign events.
Prosecutors responded by saying that much of the evidence had already been turned over to the defense and that many “defendants have demanding jobs that require a considerable amount of their time and energy, or a significant amount of travel.”
Arguments over the classified materials were due to begin in earnest Tuesday in a process guided by a law known as the Classified Information Procedures Act. The purpose of the law is to balance two competing interests in cases involving classified material: to ensure that criminal defendants have sufficient access to the material to protect their due process rights and that national security is not compromised.
Prosecutors on Monday asked Judge Cannon to issue an order that would require Trump, Nauta and their lawyers to sign a formal memorandum of understanding stating that they would not disclose any classified material they received or were permitted to review as part of the discovery process. discovery. Protection orders like these are common in cases involving classified material.