A federal judge in Florida has scheduled a trial date for next May for former U.S. president Donald Trump in a case charging him with illegally retaining hundreds of classified documents.
The May 20, 2024, trial date, set Friday by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, is a compromise between a request from prosecutors to set the trial for this December and a bid by defence lawyers to schedule it after the 2024 presidential election.
In pushing back the trial from the Dec. 11 start date that the Justice Department had asked for, Cannon wrote that “the government’s proposed schedule is atypically accelerated and inconsistent with ensuring a fair trial.”
She agreed with defence lawyers that the amount of evidence that would need to be sifted through before the trial, including classified information, was “voluminous.”
“The Court finds that the interests of justice served by this continuance outweigh the best interest of the public and Defendants in a speedy trial,” Cannon wrote.
Trump was indicted in early June on federal criminal charges after a two-year saga during which he allegedly possessed and did not return classified documents after leaving the White House, even after receiving a subpoena. Trump faces 37 felony charges that include alleged violations of the Espionage Act, while an aide of Trump’s, Walt Nauta, also faces federal indictment.
Mounting legal woes
Trump, who announced his campaign for president after officials used a subpoena and then a search warrant to retrieve hundreds of documents, has maintained his innocence in the documents case.
He has made a shifting series of explanations in campaign speeches and interviews, including that he had an “absolute right” to retain documents.
Trump has also argued that he declassified some records, without specifying which, and that his broad presidential powers gave him the authority to disclose or declassify materials. However, the Espionage Act itself does not explicitly require prosecutors to prove that the records themselves were classified.
The documents included “information regarding defence and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries, United States nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” the indictment alleged.
If the date Cannon set Friday holds, it would follow closely on the heels of a separate New York trial for Trump on dozens of state charges of falsifying business records related to two hush money payments made to two women who alleged having affairs with him. That trial is scheduled for March 25 of next year.
It also means the trial will not start until deep into the presidential nominating calendar and probably well after the Republican nominee is clear — though before that person is officially nominated at the Republican National Convention, scheduled for Milwaukee in mid-July.
Trump could yet face additional trials in the coming year. He revealed this week that he had received a letter informing him that he was a target of a separate Justice Department investigation into efforts to undo the 2020 presidential election, and prosecutors in Georgia plan to announce charging decisions within weeks in an investigation into attempts by Trump and his allies to subvert the vote there.
His Trump Organization also faces a civil trial on Oct. 2 of this year in New York over an alleged decade-long scheme to manipulate asset valuations and Trump’s net worth. The defendants also include Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, with his daughter Ivanka removed from the list of a defendants in a judge’s ruling late last month.