US District Court Judge Aileen Cannon is poised to shape the course of the 2024 presidential election – and perhaps the fate of the country. On Tuesday, she will hear from lawyers who hope to sway her as she decides how and when former President Donald Trump will stand trial for amassing classified national security secrets in his private home.
The hearing, to be held at the Cannon Courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., is the first it has held in the case that began when federal prosecutors led by Special Counsel Jack Smith charged Trump last month. Earlier court sessions were held in Miami by federal magistrates.
Tuesday’s session was initially billed as the first opportunity for lawyers to discuss how they intend to handle the voluminous classified material that is expected to form evidence in the case. But Cannon recently signaled she would also address the broader trial schedule — one that pits Trump’s request for a delay until after the 2024 presidential contest against the Justice Department’s bid for a relatively expedited trial at the end of this year.
Here are six key questions about the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT.
How will Cannon manage the campaign calendar?
This is the first vital question for a judge that is already under scrutiny. Trump says it’s impossible to have a fair trial before the November 2024 election. The Justice Department said Trump’s status as a political candidate should have no bearing on the trial schedule. Rather, they say the public interest would be served by a speedy trial that is completed before the end of the calendar year.
Cannon — a Trump appointee — can’t exactly split the difference, because any trial taking place in 2024 will necessarily clash with crucial dates on the presidential campaign calendar — from primary contests to debates. So she will have to choose: a timeline that aligns more closely with the DOJ’s fast-track process or a timeline that could continue beyond the campaign cycle and potentially into a second Trump presidency.
It’s more than just a matter of timing or convenience, as postponing the trial after the election could allow Trump – if he wins a second term – to either have the case dropped altogether or forgive himself before risking it. a prison sentence.
How will Cannon handle Trump’s other legal obligations?
Trump’s political calendar isn’t the only obstacle to the trial schedule. He also faces an increasingly busy court schedule that could require him to appear in courts in other states for much of next year.
Already, his business empire is set to go on trial in New York in October for alleged fraud; in January, Trump will face a second civil trial, when another of writer E. Jean Carroll’s trials goes to the jury; and in March, Trump is due to stand trial on criminal charges in Manhattan for allegedly falsifying business records to hide silent money payments to a porn actress who claims to have had an extramarital affair with him.
There may be more: Smith is in the final stages of a separate grand jury investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and Atlanta-area prosecutor Fani Willis is also considering charges against Trump for his efforts to manipulate Georgia’s election results.
Trump is unlikely to be required to be present throughout civil trials, but he may have to testify. In criminal cases, the conflict would be most acute.
Federal judges have a lot of discretion to overrule state proceedings if they see fit, but they rarely do. Tuesday’s hearing may provide the first indication of whether Cannon seems inclined to defer to those other pending cases.
Will Trump or his co-defendant show up?
When Cannon scheduled Tuesday’s hearing on the classified trial proceedings, she pointed out that neither Trump nor his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, were required to appear personally — only their lawyers were required to attend the session. (Nauta is Trump’s longtime personal aide who is accused of helping him conceal boxes of classified documents and then lying to federal investigators.) Everyone involved proceeded as if the defendants had not intend to show off.
But with Cannon’s intention to expand the scope of the hearing to discuss trial scheduling issues, the attendance of defendants becomes a bigger issue.
Defendants have the right to be present for every aspect of a process that could result in the loss of their liberty. And when withdrawing from any proceedings, judges usually ask for a signed “waiver” or oral confirmation from the defendants themselves. No such public waiver has occurred for a trial scheduling hearing.
Tuesday’s hearing would also be the first chance for either defendant to come face-to-face with Cannon, whose actions so far in the criminal case have been limited to signed court orders and roll entries.
Will Smith’s team lend a hand on the other federal investigation into Trump?
When judges consider taking a case to trial, they often ask prosecutors if the charges in the case are final or if there is the possibility of a superseding indictment that adds new charges or accused. Any hints from Smith’s team on that front might be newsworthy.
Smith’s prosecutors are unlikely to release much about their other investigation, which includes examining the so-called January 6 fake voter plan and the finances of pro-Trump groups. But any decision to indict Trump in that investigation could further cloud the best-laid plans for the classified documents case, so the judge could seek assurances that are unlikely to happen.
Where will the trial take place?
All signs point to Trump’s trial being held at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, a town of fewer than 50,000 people on Florida’s east coast. But Cannon doesn’t seem to have explicitly stated that it would be there. Holding the trial there could minimize disruption at other major federal courthouses in South Florida. It would also likely mean a relatively pro-Trump five-county jury.
Both sides could express their preferences and concerns on that front on Tuesday, and Cannon could weigh in on the potential logistical challenges posed by a sensational trial at the normally sleepy federal courthouse in the county seat of St. Lucie on the Treasury Coast of Florida.
What motions are both parties planning?
As she focuses on a timeline, Cannon could ask both sides what kinds of motions they plan to make in the case. Defense attorneys are expected to challenge the specific charges in the case as well as the legality of Smith’s appointment, arguing that Attorney General Merrick Garland effectively left the special counsel unsupervised, in violation of the Constitution’s requirement. that the actions of the executive branch must be governed by decisions confirmed by the Senate. officials.
Prosecutors generally file more limited motions, but they may seek to limit political mentions during the course of the case. It will also be interesting to know whether Smith wishes to impose limits on Trump’s ability to comment publicly on the case or on prosecutors.
“Bothered Jack Smith, the madman, Trump hating special prosecutor, was he seen in the COCAINE area? Trump commented earlier this month on Truth Social, referring to a bag of drugs found at the White House. “He looks like a crackhead to me!”
Prosecutors could also ask about the role of Trump allies in arranging for Nauta’s legal representation.