The federal judge overseeing the indictment of former President Donald J. Trump on charges of illegal possession of dozens of classified documents set a May 2024 trial date on Friday, taking a middle ground between the government’s request to go to trial in December and Trump’s desire to push the proceedings until after the 2024 election.
In her order, Judge Aileen M. Cannon said the trial would be held in her home court in Fort Pierce, Florida, a coastal city two and a half hours north of Miami that will draw her jury from several counties which Mr. Trump won handily in his two previous presidential campaigns.
Judge Cannon also set a timetable for hearings throughout the remainder of this year and into next year, including those involving the handling of classified material at the heart of the case.
The scheduling order came after a contentious hearing in federal court in Fort Pierce Tuesday, where prosecutors working for special counsel, Jack Smith, and Mr. Trump’s attorneys argued over when to hold the trial.
The timing of the proceedings is more important in this case than in most criminal cases because Trump is now the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination and his legal obligations to be in court will intersect with his campaign schedule.
The date Judge Cannon chose to begin the trial — May 20, 2024 — falls after most of the major tender contests. But there are less than two months until the Republican National Convention kicks off in July and the formal start of the general election season.
Trump’s advisers have been outspoken that winning the presidency is how he hopes to beat the legal charges he’s facing, and he’s adopted a strategy to delay the process, which is expected to take several weeks, for as long as possible.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Judge Cannon’s decision. But that came as no surprise to prosecutors, who set their initial timetable aggressively expecting her to pick a date, likely in the first half of 2024, and rejected a request from Trump’s legal team to push her beyond the election, according to to a person who knows the situation.
It is unclear whether the May 2024 date will hold up. As part of his order, Judge Cannon designated Mr. Trump’s case a « complicated » one, a move that could allow for further delays.
In a 38-count indictment filed last month by Mr. Smith’s office, the former president was charged with illegally holding a treasure trove of 31 documents containing sensitive national security information in violation of the Espionage Act. He was also accused of conspiring with one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, to thwart repeated government efforts to reclaim the documents.
Setting the schedule for Mr. Trump’s trial was the first significant decision in the case of Judge Cannon, appointed by Mr. Trump in 2020. She was randomly assigned to the case in June and faced enormous scrutiny after handing down a few sentences last year in a related matter that was favorable to Mr. Trump and was eventually overturned in a stinging overturn by a federal appeals court.
But in his scheduling order on Friday, he split the difference between the two sides, giving neither government nor defense what they wanted.
He rejected calls by Mr. Trump to delay the trial until after the election or to postpone any agenda altogether for the time being, saying a basic amount of case management was needed. But he also noted that the government’s proposal to seat a jury in December was « an atypical acceleration and inconsistent with the guarantee of a fair trial ».
Judge Cannon listed a number of reasons why the case needed time to go to trial.
The amount of evidence of the discovery that Trump’s lawyers will have to examine has been « voluntary, » he wrote. It included more than 1 million pages of unclassified material, at least nine months of surveillance camera footage, and more than 1,500 pages of classified documents. There was also additional discovery material from electronic devices seized by the government during his investigation.
All of which, Judge Cannon wrote, was on top of what should be a constellation of complex pre-trial motions filed by Trump’s legal team.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Trump’s lawyers said they could file motions arguing that Mr. Trump was allowed to remove documents from the White House under the Presidential Records Act and attacking the special counsel’s authority to bring charges in first place.
They also noted that they would likely question the classification status of some documents central to the case and dispute the validity of the grand jury trial in Washington and Miami that led to the indictment.
« The court will face an extensive pre-motion practice on a diverse number of factual and legal issues, » Judge Cannon wrote.
Mr. Trump is also under fire in Manhattan on charges stemming from paying money to a porn star before the 2016 election. That case is expected to go to trial in March 2024.
He was also notified this week that he could be indicted on federal charges related to his efforts to stay in office following his loss in the 2020 election, and the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney is completing an investigation into the efforts of the Mr. Trump to reverse his electoral defeat in Georgia.
Maggie Habermann AND Glenn Tordo contributed report.