The federal judge overseeing former President Donald J. Trump’s prosecution on charges of illegally retaining dozens of classified documents set a trial date on Friday for May 2024, taking a middle position between the government’s request to go to trial in December and Mr. Trump’s desire to push the proceeding until after the 2024 election.
In her order, Judge Aileen M. Cannon said the trial was to be held in her home courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., a coastal city two-and-a-half hours north of Miami that will draw its jury pool from several counties that Mr. Trump won handily in his two previous presidential campaigns.
Judge Cannon also laid out a calendar of hearings, throughout the remainder of this year and into next year, including those concerning the handling of the classified material at the heart of the case.
The scheduling order came after a contentious hearing on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce where prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, and lawyers for Mr. Trump sparred over when to hold the trial.
The timing of the proceeding is more important in this case than in most criminal matters because Mr. Trump is now the front-runner 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 start the trial — May 20, 2024 — falls after the bulk of the primary race contests. But it is less than two months before the start of the Republican National Convention in July and the formal start of the general election season.
Mr. Trump’s advisers have been blunt that winning the presidency is how he hopes to beat the legal charges he is facing, and he has adopted a strategy of the delaying the trial, which is expected to take several weeks, for as long as possible.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Judge Cannon’s decision. But it did not come as a surprise to prosecutors, who set their initial, aggressive timetable expecting that she would select a date, probably sometime in the first half of 2024, and reject the Trump legal team’s request to push it past the election, according to a person familiar with the situation.
It is not clear whether the May 2024 date will hold. As part of her order, Judge Cannon designated Mr. Trump’s case as “complex,” a move that could allow for additional delays.
In a 38-count indictment filed last month by Mr. Smith’s office, the former president was charged with illegally holding on to a 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 obstruct the government’s repeated efforts to reclaim the documents.
Setting the schedule for Mr. Trump’s trial was the first significant decision in the case for Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Mr. Trump in 2020. She was randomly assigned to the case in June and faced enormous scrutiny after having made some rulings last year in a related matter that were favorable to Mr. Trump and that were ultimately overturned in a stinging reversal by a federal appeals court.
But in her scheduling order on Friday, she split the difference between the two sides, giving neither the government nor the defense what they had wanted.
She rejected Mr. Trump’s requests to delay the trial until after the election or to put off setting any schedule at all for the moment, saying that some basic amount of case management was required. But she also noted that the government’s proposal to seat a jury in December was “atypically accelerated and inconsistent with ensuring a fair trial.”
Judge Cannon listed a number of reasons the case needed time to move toward trial.
The amount of discovery evidence that Mr. Trump’s lawyers will have to sort through was “voluminous,” she 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 its investigation.
All of that, Judge Cannon wrote, was on top of what is expected to be a constellation of complex pretrial motions filed by Mr. Trump’s legal team.
During the hearing on Tuesday, lawyers for Mr. Trump said they might 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 the first place.
They also noted that they would probably question the classification status of certain documents central to the case and challenge the validity of the grand jury process in Washington and Miami that led to the indictment.
“The court will be faced with extensive pretrial motion practice on a diverse number of legal and factual issues,” Judge Cannon wrote.
Mr. Trump is also under indictment in Manhattan on charges stemming from hush-money payments to a porn star before the 2016 election. That case is scheduled to go to trial in March 2024.
He was also informed this week that he could be indicted on federal charges related to his efforts to remain in office after his defeat in the 2020 election, and the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., is completing an investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss in Georgia.
Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.
An earlier version of this article misstated one element of how the May 2024 trial date stacks up against the presidential primary calendar. That date is after the bulk of the states hold their presidential nominating contests. It is not a day before the primary in Georgia, which is scheduled to hold its primary in March.
How we handle corrections
Alan Feuer covers extremism and political violence. He joined The Times in 1999. More about Alan Feuer
Source: Read Full Article