The federal judge presiding in Donald Trump’s criminal case related to his retention of national security documents at Mar-a-Lago appeared inclined to delay the scheduling of the trial, expressing concern that the timetable would clash with Trump’s 2020 election subversion trial in Washington.
The US district judge Aileen Cannon did not specify what changes she would make to the pre-trial timetable at a hearing on Thursday, but signaled she would make adjustments to certain deadlines – which could have the net effect of pushing back the start of the trial.
Trump has made it no secret that his overarching legal strategy in his criminal cases is to seek delay, ideally beyond the 2024 election in November, in the hopes that winning re-election could enable him to potentially pardon himself or direct his attorney general to drop the charges.
The prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith explicitly complained to the judge that Trump’s requests to postpone some deadlines because of complications with the discovery process under the Classified Information Procedures Act amounted to a request to delay the trial.
But the judge concluded the hearing by saying she would enter an order as soon as possible outlining “reasonable adjustments” to the timetable after repeatedly mentioning that she believed the delays in turning over the classified discovery to Trump’s team would cause the cases to clash.
“I’m having a hard time seeing how this work can be accomplished in this compressed period of time,” Cannon said.
The judge’s observation came in response to Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, arguing that the current pre-trial timetable in the classified documents case was unworkable as a result of the delays with the classified discovery and the multiple trials scheduled for next year.
Trump faces three criminal trials between the start of March and the end of May, starting in New York for hush money payments before the 2016 election, then in Washington for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and finally in Florida for his retention of classified documents.
The confluence of those three trials was too onerous on Trump and his lawyers, Blanche argued and, in a particularly bold moment, suggested it was the fault of prosecutors that the timetable had to be abandoned – because it was they who had chosen to bring two cases against Trump.
Blanche also took advantage of the judge’s earlier skepticism with the special counsel’s lead lawyer, Jay Bratt, when he argued there was no reason to abandon the current pre-trial timetable because the concerns were hypothetical and they should strive to make the May trial date.
The judge had scheduled the hearing after the Trump legal team asked to postpone a series of deadlines related to the Classified Information Procedures Act, or Cipa, the complex rules governing how classified documents are introduced at trial in national security cases.
Trump was charged with retaining national defense information – including US nuclear secrets and plans for US military retaliation in the event of an attack – and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them, which is why the case is being governed by Cipa rules.
The Trump legal team had argued that delays with the production of the classified discovery meant they needed more time to identify what additional discovery requests they wanted to make before the special counsel asked to make redactions to the classified documents being turned over.
In addition to the delays with the classified discovery, lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira complained that they were also having trouble accessing voluminous amounts of surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago they received in unclassified discovery.
The lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants told the judge they knew what clips that the special counsel had identified as pertinent for their defense work – the period in 2022 when boxes of classified documents were moved at Mar-a-Lago – but that they needed to review all of the footage.