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Judge puts off decision whether to delay Trump documents trial

HIALEAH, FL - NOVEMBER 8: Former U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally at The Ted Hendricks Stadium at Henry Milander Park on November 8, 2023 in Hialeah, Florida. Even as Trump faces multiple criminal indictments, he still maintains a commanding lead in the polls over other Republican candidates. (Photo by Alon Skuy/Getty Images)  (Alon Skuy)
By Alan Feuer New York Times

A federal judge on Friday put off until at least March the fraught and consequential decision of whether to delay the start of former President Donald Trump’s trial on charges of illegally holding on to a trove of highly classified national security secrets after he left office.

But acknowledging “the evolving complexities” in the proceeding, the judge, Aileen Cannon, also said it would be “prudent” to push back several deadlines she had set for pretrial motions to be filed, especially those involving the classified materials at the heart of the case.

While Cannon’s ruling left the question of the trial’s timing unresolved, it staked out a temporary middle ground between Trump’s lawyers and federal prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith.

Trump’s legal team, pursuing a persistent strategy of delay, has repeatedly asked the judge to postpone the trial until after the 2024 election. Prosecutors under Smith have admitted that the case is complicated but have asked Cannon to hold the line and stick to the current trial date of May 20.

At a hearing last week in U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida, Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, signaled that she was ready to make some “reasonable adjustments” to the timing of the case. She expressed concern in particular that her trial in Florida might “collide” with Trump’s other federal trial, a Washington-based proceeding on charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election that is set to begin in early March.

In an order Friday explaining her decision, Cannon reiterated her concern that the schedules for the two federal trials “as they currently stand overlap substantially.” That, she noted, could make it difficult to ensure that Trump had “adequate time to prepare for trial and to assist in his defense.”

But Cannon also said that Trump’s legal calendar – he is facing a total of four criminal cases – was “less important at this stage” than the challenges presented by the large volume of discovery evidence that the defense needs to digest. It was also less significant, she said, than the various difficulties involved in handling the sensitive materials at the center of the case under a law known as the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA.

Cannon’s ruling left open the chance that the very sort of collision she has worried about might eventually take place. As part of her decision, she set a hearing March 1 to determine the schedule for her case in Fort Pierce. That is only three days before Trump’s election subversion case is supposed to begin in Washington.

Her ruling also did not foreclose the possibility that she might at some point in the future delay the trial until after the election – a move that would be a major victory for Trump. Were that to happen, and were Trump to win the race, he could have the case thrown out entirely simply by ordering his attorney general to drop the charges.

Notably absent from Cannon’s ruling was any mention of how the trial schedule might intersect with Trump’s increasingly busy campaign schedule. It has been a challenge to find ample time for each of Trump’s four trials not merely in relation to one another but also against the backdrop of a rapidly approaching set of primary elections and the Republican Party’s nominating convention in July.

Cannon chose to ignore Trump’s political calendar and to focus instead on logistical matters related to the nuts and bolts of the case. She pushed back several of her initial filing deadlines because of delays in constructing a secure facility in which she could review classified materials and because at least one lawyer in the case only recently obtained a full security clearance.

She also said she was anticipating that the legal battles between the defense and the prosecution over how many – and precisely which – classified materials should be handed over as part of the discovery process would be “more robust than initially forecasted.”

These fights, conducted under CIPA, she said, would require her to conduct a review of a “significant volume of information,” conduct more hearings and consider motions by the defense for additional disclosures.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.