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Trump trial date in classified documents case set for May 20, 2024

Trump documents trial set to begin May 2024
Trump classified documents trial set to begin in May 2024 05:18

Washington — The federal judge in Florida overseeing the Justice Department's case against former President Donald Trump over his alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents has set a date for his trial to begin in May 2024.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon said in a seven-page order Friday that the two-week jury trial will begin on May 20, 2024, at the courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she sits. The Justice Department had requested the trial start by mid-December of this year, but Trump's legal team pushed back, arguing instead for the proceedings to begin after the 2024 presidential election.

"The Court will be faced with extensive pre-trial motion practice on a diverse number of legal and factual issues, all in connection with a 38-count indictment," wrote Cannon.

The May 20 date means the trial will take place toward the end of the Republican presidential primaries. It would begin more than two months after Super Tuesday, when the largest number of delegates needed to secure the nomination are at stake. The Republican National Convention, where the party will formally select its nominee, is scheduled to begin on July 15. The former president, who is seeking the White House for a third time, is currently the GOP front-runner.

In addition to setting the date for the trial to commence, Cannon also laid out pre-trial deadlines, including proceedings conducted under the Classified Information Procedures Act, a federal law that governs how classified information will be used in the case.

Trump was charged with 37 felony counts in June related to his handling of government records retrieved from his South Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, after he left office in January 2021. He pleaded not guilty to all counts, which include the willful retention of national defense information and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

An aide to Trump, Walt Nauta, also faces six felony counts, including conspiracy. Five of those counts named Trump as a co-defendant, and the sixth named Nauta alone. He also pleaded not guilty earlier this month.

The charges stem from an investigation overseen by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland last November.

The May start date lands mid-way between the two schedules proposed by Smith's office and Trump's legal team, and months after Cannon's initial proposal for the trial to begin in mid-August.

After Cannon set the tentative trial date for next month, prosecutors in the special counsel's office requested a continuance, citing the large quantify of classified material and need for evidentiary discovery in the case. The defense, however, argued in court documents and at a hearing on Tuesday that Trump's candidacy posed an unique challenge for the court that warranted a delay until after the 2024 presidential election on Nov. 5.

"This extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the fact and perception of our American democracy," Trump's attorneys wrote last week. "Based on the extraordinary nature of this action, there is most assuredly no reason for any expedited trial, and the ends of justice are best served by a continuance."

Prosecutors told Cannon that Trump and Nauta should not be given preferential treatment because of their status.

In her order on Friday, Cannon acknowledged the impact that the sheer volume of material collected by federal investigators would have on the ongoing proceedings.

"By conservative estimates, the amount of discovery in this case is voluminous and likely to increase in the normal course as trial approaches," Cannon wrote Friday. "While the Government has taken steps to organize and filter the extensive discovery, no one disagrees that Defendants need adequate time to review and evaluate it on their own accord."

Defense attorneys told the court this week they had all obtained necessary clearances to begin reviewing classified materials collected from Mar-a-Lago by federal investigators. The Justice Department has already begun turning over non-classified information, including more than 428,300 records, totaling 1.1 million pages, and nine months of surveillance footage. 

At least 1,545 pages of classified material is ready to be produced to Trump's lawyers, Cannon said. She set a Sept. 7 deadline for the initial batch of classified discovery to be turned over.

The May 20 trial date means the proceedings are set to begin weeks after Trump's separate criminal trial in New York, where he is facing 34 counts stemming from a hush-money payment made to an adult film star before the 2016 election. The trial in that case, brought by Manhattan's district attorney, begins March 24.

Trump's legal troubles also include a civil case brought by the New York attorney general against the former president and his eponymous company. Smith's team and the top prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, are also conducting investigations into efforts to stop the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.

Trump revealed this week he was notified on Sunday that he is a target of Smith's probe into the attempts to reverse the outcome of the election, indicating an indictment could be near.

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