Trump documents trial start delayed indefinitely, judge orders

By Andrew Goudsward

(Reuters) – Donald Trump‘s trial in Florida on charges of illegally keeping classified documents after leaving office has been indefinitely postponed, a judge decided on Tuesday, greatly reducing the odds he will face a jury in either of the two federal criminal cases against him before the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency, previously had been scheduled to go to trial on May 20 in the documents case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, but the prosecution and defense had both acknowledged that date would need to be delayed.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020, said on Tuesday the trial would no longer begin May 20 but did not set a new date. Cannon scheduled pre-trial hearings to run through July 22.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 federal counts accusing him of retaining sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing U.S. government efforts to retrieve them.

Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated him four years ago.

Smith faces significant obstacles to getting either federal case against Trump to trial before the election. Cannon is yet to rule on several legal issues crucial to the documents case and has signaled support for Trump’s defense on some matters.

In a separate case brought by Smith involving Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised to recognize that former presidents have at least some immunity from prosecution over official actions. That outcome mostly likely would further delay Trump’s election-related case as lower courts determine which allegations against him are covered by that legal shield.

Trump’s lawyers had said a trial in the documents case should not start until after the election, but also suggested an Aug. 12 date in response to an order from Cannon to propose a timeline for the case. Smith proposed a July start date.

Trump’s lawyers have worked to delay all four criminal cases he faces.

“We’re in this absolutely unprecedented situation where a defendant is potentially going to have the power to shut down his own prosecution,” said George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason, an expert in white-collar criminal cases. “That’s an argument for getting the case to trial before the election.”

Trump has been on trial in New York state court since April 15 on charges he unlawfully sought to conceal hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He has also been charged in state court in Georgia over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump has sought to portray all the legal cases against him as politically motivated.

The charges in the Florida case include violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the unauthorized possession of national defense information, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators.

In an April Reuters/Ipsos poll, nearly a quarter of Republican respondents and more than half of independents indicated they would not vote for Trump if a jury convicts him of a felony.

If either federal case reaches a jury before the election, it would likely be in the weeks immediately before Nov. 5, an outcome sure to draw accusations of election interference from Trump’s legal team.

“Any judge would take pause with the idea of trying a presidential candidate a month before the presidential election,” said attorney Kel McClanahan, who specializes in national security issues and has represented members of the intelligence community.

But a Trump win in November may mean that neither case ever reaches a jury. As president, Trump could direct the Justice Department to drop the federal charges or seek to pardon himself.

Smith’s team has pushed aggressive deadlines in the Florida case, arguing that the public has a right to a speedy trial. Prosecutor Jay Bratt told Cannon during a hearing that an autumn trial would not violate Justice Department guidelines that prohibit taking investigative steps close to an election that could impact the outcome of the vote.

Cannon has denied two bids by Trump to dismiss the charges, but several remain pending. She also has signaled that Trump’s claims that the documents were personal records may be relevant to how she instructs the jury at a future trial, a decision that could lead to an appeal by prosecutors and more delays.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

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