Trump Lawyers Seek Indefinite Postponement of Documents Trial
"The former president’s legal team argued in a court filing that no trial date should be set until all “substantive motions” in the case were resolved, setting up an early key decision by Judge Aileen M. Cannon.
Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump asked a federal judge on Monday night to indefinitely postpone his trial on charges of illegally retaining classified documents after he left office, saying that the proceeding should not begin until all “substantive motions” in the case had been presented and decided.
The written filing — submitted 30 minutes before its deadline of midnight on Tuesday — presents a significant early test for Judge Aileen M. Cannon, the Trump-appointed jurist who is overseeing the case. If granted, it could have the effect of pushing Mr. Trump’s trial into the final stages of the presidential campaign in which he is now the Republican front-runner or even past the 2024 election.
While timing is important in any criminal matter, it could be hugely consequential in Mr. Trump’s case, in which he stands accused of illegally holding on to 31 classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing the government’s repeated efforts to reclaim them.
There could be complications of a sort never before presented to a court if Mr. Trump is a candidate in the last legs of a presidential campaign and a federal criminal defendant on trial at the same time. If the trial is pushed back until after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he could try to pardon himself after taking office or have his attorney general dismiss the matter entirely.
Some of the former president’s advisers have been blunt in private conversations that he is looking to winning the election as a solution to his legal problems. And the request for an open-ended delay to the trial of Mr. Trump and his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, a personal aide, presents a high-stakes question for Judge Cannon, who came into the case already under scrutiny for making decisions favorable to the former president in the early phases of the investigation.
The filing came in response to one submitted last month by prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, who requested a trial date of Dec. 11. Judge Cannon, appearing to adopt the brisk calendar mandated by the Speedy Trial Act, had initially scheduled the case to go to trial in August.
Takeaways From Trump’s Indictment in the Documents Case
New revelations. The 49-page indictment against Donald Trump and a personal aide, Walt Nauta, revealed a host of potentially devastating new details in the Justice Department’s inquiry into the former president’s mishandling of classified documents. Here are some of the most significant allegations:
Judges have wide latitude to set schedules for trials, and scheduling orders are typically not subject to appeal to higher courts. That said, given the extraordinary nature of Mr. Trump’s case and the potential implications of a delay, prosecutors under Mr. Smith could in theory try to come up with a rationale to challenge a scheduling decision made by Judge Cannon to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers pitched their request to Judge Cannon as a plea for cautious deliberation and as a means of safeguarding democracy.
“This extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the fact and perception of our American democracy,” wrote the lawyers, Chris M. Kise and Todd Blanche for Mr. Trump, and Stanley Woodward Jr. and Sasha Dadan for Mr. Nauta.
“The court now presides over a prosecution advanced by the administration of a sitting president against his chief political rival, himself a leading candidate for the presidency of the United States,” they wrote. “Therefore, a measured consideration and timeline that allows for a careful and complete review of the procedures that led to this indictment and the unprecedented legal issues presented herein best serves the interests of the defendants and the public.”
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The lawyers also took note of the unusual intertwining of law and politics in the case, suggesting that Mr. Trump’s status as a presidential candidate should be factored into the timing of the trial.
“President Trump is running for president of the United States and is currently the likely Republican Party nominee,” they wrote. “This undertaking requires a tremendous amount of time and energy, and that effort will continue until the election on Nov. 5, 2024.”
“Mr. Nauta’s job requires him to accompany President Trump during most campaign trips around the country,” they continued. “This schedule makes trial preparation with both of the defendants challenging. Such preparation requires significant planning and time.”
And they suggested that there was no rationale for an expedited trial.
“While the government appears to favor an expedited (and therefore cursory) approach to this case, it cannot point to any exigency or urgency requiring a rapid adjudication,” they wrote. “There is no ongoing threat to national security interests nor any concern regarding continued criminal activity.”
On Monday, hours before Mr. Trump’s lawyers requested a delay of the trial, a lawyer for Mr. Nauta asked Judge Cannon to postpone a hearing to discuss the issue of the classified materials in the case that was scheduled for Friday. The defense and the prosecution ultimately agreed to delay the hearing, which will take place in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., until next Tuesday.
Judge Cannon agreed to that schedule change in a brief order issued on Tuesday morning.
In making their case to delay the trial, Mr. Trump’s lawyers cited the expansive discovery evidence provided to them by the government.
The first discovery disclosure, they said, contained more than 833,450 pages of material, including about 122,650 emails and 305,670 other documents. The lawyers said that after subsequent troves of evidence were handed over, they would most likely make more requests to the government for further information.
They also pointed to the complex process of deciding how to handle the sensitive materials at the heart of the case under the Classified Information Procedures Act — the subject of the hearing that had been scheduled for Friday. The lawyers strongly hinted that they were going to fight the government during the pretrial litigation over classified material, a process that could take up significant amounts of time.
“In general, the defendants believe there should simply be no ‘secret’ evidence, nor any facts concealed from public view relative to the prosecution of a leading presidential candidate by his political opponent,” the lawyers wrote. “Our democracy demands no less than full transparency.”
Aside from its request for a delay, the filing served as a preview of Mr. Trump’s legal strategy as the lawyers laid out ways in which they planned to attack his indictment.
They suggested, for example, that they intended to challenge some of the charges he is facing by arguing that the Presidential Records Act permitted Mr. Trump to take documents with him from the White House. That interpretation of the Watergate-era law is at odds with how legal experts interpret it and was not successful during an extended legal battle last year over an outside arbiter who was put in place to review a trove of materials seized by the F.B.I. from Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
The former president’s lawyers also suggested that they might raise “constitutional and statutory challenges” to Mr. Smith’s authority as special counsel. Moreover, they laid the groundwork for questioning whether an impartial jury could be seated at the trial while Mr. Trump was running for office.
“There is simply no question any trial of this action during the pendency of a presidential election will impact both the outcome of that election,” they wrote, “and, importantly, the ability of the defendants to obtain a fair trial.”
Maggie Haberman is a senior political correspondent and the author of “Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America.” She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for reporting on President Trump’s advisers and their connections to Russia. More about Maggie Haberman"