Judge in Trump documents case not convinced by prosecutors’ plea for July trial date

A federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal case over his retention of classified documents appeared inclined to reject a proposal by special-counsel prosecutors that she set a schedule culminating in a July trial, saying at a court hearing on Friday she found the timeline unworkable.

The US district judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, did not set a new trial date from the bench – it is currently set for May but almost certain to be scrapped given repeated delays – and it was unclear whether she would adopt competing schedules proposed by Trump and prosecutors, or set her own.

Trump himself attended the hearing in Florida in a case that has captured much attention, not least because some of the documents allegedly relate to US nuclear secrets and others sensitive matters of national security.

Arriving at federal district court in Fort Pierce, Florida, on Friday morning, the motorcade carrying the former US president and all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee passed supporters waving flags and campaign banners, as members of the media and law enforcement officers looked on.

But inside the courtroom, Cannon expressed particular reservation with the proposed timetable submitted by prosecutors, saying part of their schedule was “unrealistic”, and putting in doubt the probability she would move forward with proceedings that would mean Trump going to trial in July.

The skepticism from Cannon came as prosecutors and lawyers for Trump sparred over forthcoming deadlines, which could have profound implications for the scope and viability of not just the documents case but also for the federal 2020 election interference case in Washington.

Prosecutors complained at the hearing that Trump’s proposed schedule was too slow, which drew a sharp response from Trump’s legal team, who told the judge it was impossible for Trump to be on trial in New York for his hush-money case and attend hearings at the same time in Florida.

Lawyers for special counsel Jack Smith’s office, exasperated by the situation, at one point added, “We want to keep the case moving along” – which drew an instant rebuke from Cannon, who replied that while it may not be apparent to them, “there’s a lot of working getting done behind the scenes”.

Trump’s lawyers reiterated that they wanted Cannon to delay the classified documents trial until after the 2024 election in November, claiming once again that it was unfair to his presidential campaign and unfair to him personally because he could not be in courtrooms in New York and in Florida.

The issue with a July trial date, the Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said, was that Trump would be stuck in a Manhattan courtroom for roughly six weeks starting on 25 March when he faces charges that he falsified business records in hiding hush money payments before the 2016 election.

Adopting prosecutors’ schedule, Blanche said, would make it impossible for Trump and his lawyers, some of whom are involved in both cases, to attend both the New York trial and major hearings as he is entitled as a defendant during that period before Cannon.

Related: Trump again presses for delay of classified documents trial until 2025

Trump has dominated the Republican presidential primary despite facing 91 criminal charges – 40 in the classified documents case – as well as multimillion-dollar civil defeats and attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

His legal schedule is as busy as his campaign. Also on Friday, closing arguments were due in Georgia in Trump’s attempt to disqualify Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton county, from the state election subversion case which produced 13 charges.

Cannon’s main priority was expected to be setting a new trial date. Whether Cannon would set a trial date in a ruling from the bench, or write an order later, was unclear.

Also uncertain was whether Cannon would decide to adopt a schedule suggested by Trump that would culminate in an August trial, or a schedule suggested by prosecutors, culminating in a July trial.

The one thing I think the parties agree on is that the case can be tried this summer,” said Jay Bratt, a prosecutor from Smith’s office, to Cannon in court.

Cannon previously indicated that the morning part of the hearing would address a request from Trump lawyers that prosecutors provide them with reams of additional information, which they believe will help mount a defense against the sweeping indictment. Trump is charged with violating the Espionage Act.

The filing submitted by Trump, known as a motion to compel discovery, would allow Trump to challenge national security assessments of documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, and seek information about potential political bias among prosecutors. At times, the 68-page filing also read more like a list of political grievances, accusing the US intelligence community of harboring bias in its classification assessments and alleging collusion between prosecutors and the Biden White House.

In court, prosecutors called Trump’s complaints of collusion and bias “baseless”.

Trump’s lawyers also asked the judge to force prosecutors to release information about their interest in Stanley Woodward, the lawyer for the Trump valet and co-defendant Walt Nauta, who complained during the criminal investigation that he faced improper pressure to have Nauta cooperate against Trump.

In the afternoon part of the hearing, Cannon was set to focus on a prosecutors’ request that she reconsider a ruling they said would allow Trump to make public FBI documents produced during discovery public, revealing potential witnesses’ names.

Prosecutors argued Cannon applied the wrong legal standard when she allowed Trump to file exhibits without redactions. If Cannon did not reverse her decision, the filing said, prosecutors were prepared to appeal to force the reversal.

In the filing, prosecutors contended it was wrong for Cannon to require public identification of more than two dozen people who participated in the investigation, including some who may never testify at trial.

Prosecutors also asked Cannon to force Trump to file under seal the most sensitive exhibits he wanted to make public – such as transcripts of grand jury witness testimony, confidential FBI reports, non-public details of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence – and redact less sensitive exhibits.

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