On Monday evening, lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump asked a federal judge to indefinitely postpone his trial on charges he illegally withheld classified documents after he left office, saying the proceedings should not begin until all « substantive motions » in case have been passed. presented and decided.
THE written filing — filed 30 minutes before the midnight deadline Tuesday — presents a significant first test for Judge Aileen M. Cannon, the Trump-appointed juror overseeing the case. If granted, it could have the effect of pushing Trump’s process into the final stages of the presidential campaign where he is now the Republican favorite or even beyond the 2024 election.
While timing is important in any criminal matter, it could be hugely consequential in Trump’s case, in which he is accused of illegally withholding 31 classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing repeated government efforts 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 postponed until after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he could try to pardon himself after taking office or ask his attorney general to drop the matter entirely.
Some of the former president’s advisers have been forthright in private conversations about the fact that he is trying to win the election as a solution to his legal problems. And the request to indefinitely postpone the trial of Trump and his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, a personal aide, presents a high-stakes issue for Judge Cannon, who has entered the case already under consideration to make decisions favorable to the former president in the early stages of the investigation.
The filing came in response to one filed last month by prosecutors working for special counsel, Jack Smith, who requested a December 11 trial date. Judge Cannon, who appears to be adopting the tight timetable mandated by the Speedy Trial Act, had originally scheduled the case to go to trial in August.
Judges have wide discretion to set trial schedules, and scheduling orders are typically not subject to appeal to higher courts. That said, given the extraordinary nature of Mr. Trump’s case and the potential implications of a delay, prosecutors under Mr. Smith could conceivably try to find a rationale to challenge a scheduling decision made by Judge Cannon in the Court of Appeals of the United States. for the 11th Circuit.
Trump’s attorneys presented their plea to Judge Cannon as a plea for cautious deliberation and as a means of safeguarding democracy.
« This extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the facts and perceptions of our American democracy, » wrote attorneys, Chris M. Kise and Todd Blanche for Mr. Trump, and Stanley Woodward Jr. and Sasha Dadan for Mr. Nauta.
« The court now presides over an indictment brought by the administration of an incumbent president against his chief political rival, himself a leading candidate for the presidency of the United States, » they wrote. « Therefore, measured consideration and a timeline that allows for a thorough and careful review of the procedures leading up to this indictment and the unprecedented legal issues presented herein serve the best interests of the defendants and the public. »
The lawyers also noted the unusual interweaving of law and politics in the case, suggesting that Trump’s status as a presidential candidate should be factored into the timing of the trial.
“President Trump is running for president of the United States and is currently the likely candidate of the Republican Party,” they wrote. « This undertaking requires an enormous amount of time and energy and that effort will continue until the November 5, 2024 election. »
“Mr. Nauta’s job requires him to accompany President Trump on most campaign trips around the country,” they continued. “This schedule makes preparing for trial with both defendants challenging. Such preparation requires significant planning and time.
And they have suggested that there is no reason for an expedited process.
« Although the government appears to favor a fast track (and therefore superficial) approach to this case, it cannot indicate any need or urgency requiring a speedy judgement, » they wrote. « There is no ongoing threat to national security interests nor any concern about continued criminal activity. »
On Monday, hours before Trump’s attorneys requested a postponement of the trial, a Nauta attorney asked Judge Cannon to adjourn a hearing to discuss the matter of classified materials in the case that was scheduled for Friday. The defense and prosecution eventually agreed to delay the hearing, which will be held in the federal district court in Fort Pierce, Fla., until next Tuesday.
Judge Cannon agreed to that schedule change in a memo issued Tuesday morning.
In making their case to delay the trial, Trump’s lawyers cited the ample discovery evidence given to them by the government.
The first disclosure of the discovery, 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 the subsequent delivery of evidence, they would most likely make further requests to the government for more information.
They also highlighted the complex process of deciding how to handle sensitive materials at the heart of the case under the Classified Information Procedures Act – the subject of the hearing that was scheduled for Friday. The lawyers strongly hinted that they would fight the government during the preliminary litigation over the classified material, a process that could take a long time.
« In general, the defendants believe that there simply should be no ‘secret’ evidence, nor any fact hidden from public view relating to the indictment of a major presidential candidate by his political opponent, » the lawyers wrote. « Our democracy requires nothing less than full transparency. »
Aside from his request for a deferment, the filing served as a preview of Mr. Trump’s legal strategy as lawyers outlined the ways they planned to attack his allegation.
They suggested, for example, that they intended to dispute some of the allegations he’s facing by arguing that the Presidential Records Act allowed Trump to bring documents with him from the White House. This interpretation of the Watergate-era law runs counter to how legal experts interpret it and was unsuccessful during a lengthy legal battle last year over an outside arbitrator who was tasked with examining a number of materials seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
The former president’s lawyers also suggested they could raise « constitutional and statutory objections » to Mr. Smith’s authority as special counsel. Additionally, they laid the groundwork for questions about whether an impartial jury could be sitting in the trial while Mr. Trump was running for office.
« There is simply no question that any prosecution of this action during the pendency of a presidential election will impact both the outcome of that election, » they wrote, « and more importantly, the defendants’ ability to obtain a trial. » fair ».