Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump asked a federal judge Monday night to indefinitely delay his trial on charges of illegally keeping classified documents after he left office, saying the proceeding should not begin until all “substantial motions” in the case have been made. presented and decided.
The written filing — filed 30 minutes before its midnight deadline Tuesday — presents a significant early test for Judge Aileen M. Cannon, the Trump-appointed jurist overseeing the case. If approved, it could have the effect of pushing Mr. Trump’s trial into the final stages of the presidential campaign, in which he is now the Republican front-runner, or even beyond the 2024 election.
While time is of the essence in any criminal matter, it could be extremely consequential in Mr. Trump’s case, in which he is accused of illegally keeping 31 classified documents after leaving the White House and thwarting the government’s repeated efforts to to recover them.
There could be complications of a kind never before presented to a court if Mr. Trump is a candidate in the latter stages of a presidential campaign and a federal criminal defendant on trial at the same time. If the trial is pushed back until after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he could try to pardon himself after taking office or have his attorney general drop the case entirely.
Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have been blunt in private conversations that the former president is seeking to win the election as a solution to his legal problems. And the request for an indefinite delay to the trial of Mr. Trump and his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, one of his personal assistants, presents a high interest question for Judge Cannon, who came into the case already under scrutiny to have. made decisions favorable to the former president in the early stages of the investigation.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers presented their request to Judge Cannon as a plea for careful consideration and as a means to protect democracy itself.
“This extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the fact and perception of our American democracy,” they wrote.
“The court is now presiding over a prosecution brought by the administration of a sitting president against his main political rival, himself a leading candidate for the presidency of the United States,” they wrote. “Therefore, a measured consideration and a timeline that allows for a careful and complete review of the proceedings that led to this indictment and the unprecedented legal issues presented here best serve the interests of the defendants and the public.”
The lawyers also noted the case’s unusual intertwining of law and politics, suggesting that Mr Trump’s status as a candidate should be taken into account at the time of the trial.
“President Trump is running for president of the United States and is currently the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party,” they wrote. “This undertaking requires an enormous amount of time and energy, and that effort will continue until the election on November 5, 2024.”
“Mr. Nauta’s job requires him to accompany President Trump on most campaign trips around the country,” they continued. “This schedule makes trial preparation with both defendants challenging. Such preparation requires significant planning and time.”
Mr. Trump’s filing came in response to one filed last month by prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith, who requested a Dec. 11 trial date. Judge Cannon, appearing to adopt the speedy calendar mandated by the Speedy Trial Act, was at first. scheduled the case to go to trial in August.
On Monday, just hours before Mr. Trump’s lawyers asked for a delay in sentencing, a lawyer for Mr. Nauta asked Judge Cannon to postpone a hearing to discuss the issue of the classified materials in the case, which was scheduled for Friday. The defense and the prosecution finally agreed to postpone the hearing, which will take place in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla. until next tuesday.
Judge Cannon still has to give her approval to that schedule change.
In making their case to delay the trial, Mr. Trump’s lawyers cited the extensive discovery evidence provided to them by the government.
The first discovery disclosure, they said, contained more than 833,450 pages of material, including about 122,650 emails and 305,670 other documents. The lawyers said that after further evidence is handed over, they will likely make further requests to the government for more information.
The lawyers also pointed to the complex process of deciding how to handle the sensitive materials at the heart of the case under the Classified Information Procedures Act – the subject of the hearing, which was scheduled for Friday. The lawyers have strongly hinted that they will fight the government during the pre-trial hearing over confidential material, a process that could eat up significant amounts of time.
“In general, the defendants believe that there should simply be no ‘secret’ evidence, nor any facts hidden from public view relating to the prosecution of a leading presidential candidate by his political opponent,” the lawyers wrote. “Our democracy demands nothing less than full transparency.”
In addition to its request for a delay, the filing served as a preview of Mr. Trump’s legal strategy, as the lawyers laid out ways they planned to attack his impeachment.
The lawyers have suggested, for example, that they intend to challenge some of the charges he faces, arguing that the Presidential Records Act allowed Mr. Trump to take documents from the White House with him. That interpretation of the Watergate-era law is different from how legal experts interpret it and was unsuccessful during an extended legal battle last year over an outside arbitrator who was appointed to review a trove of materials seized by the FBI from March. -Lake, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
Mr Trump’s lawyers also suggested they could mount “constitutional and legal challenges” to Mr Smith’s authority as special counsel. In addition, they planted the seeds to question whether an impartial jury could be seated at the trial while Mr. Trump was running for office.
“There is simply no doubt that any adjudication of this action during the pendency of a presidential election will affect both the outcome of that election and, importantly, the defendants’ ability to obtain a fair trial,” they wrote.