Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump asked a federal judge Monday night to indefinitely postpone his trial on charges of unlawful withholding of classified documents after he left office, saying proceedings should not begin until all “substantive motions” if they have been taken. been presented and decided.
The written submission, filed just 30 minutes before Tuesday’s midnight deadline, presents a significant early test for Judge Aileen M. Cannon, the Trump-appointed jurist overseeing the case. If granted, it could have the effect of taking Trump’s trial into the final stages of the presidential campaign in which he is now the leading Republican candidate or even beyond the 2024 election.
While timing is important in any criminal matter, it could have huge consequences in Trump’s case, in which he is accused of illegally withholding 31 classified documents after leaving the White House and then obstructing repeated government efforts to recover them.
There could be complications of a kind never before brought before a court if Trump is a candidate in the late stages of a presidential campaign and a federal criminal defendant on trial at the same time. If the trial is delayed until after the election is decided and Trump wins, he could try to pardon himself after taking office or have his attorney general drop the matter altogether.
Some of Trump’s advisers have been candid 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 postponement of the trial of Mr. Trump and his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, one of his personal assistants, poses a high-stakes question for Judge Cannon, who entered the case already under scrutiny for having made favorable decisions. the former president in the early stages of the investigation.
Trump’s lawyers presented their request to Judge Cannon as a request for careful deliberation and as a means to safeguard democracy itself.
“This extraordinary case presents a serious challenge to both the fact and the perception of our American democracy,” they wrote.
“The court now presides over proceedings brought by the administration of a sitting president against his main political rival, himself a leading candidate for President of the United States,” they wrote. “Therefore, measured consideration and a timeline that allow for a careful and thorough review of the proceedings leading up to this indictment and the unprecedented legal issues presented herein best serve the interests of the defendants and the public. ”.
The lawyers also took note of the unusual intertwining of law and politics in the case, and suggested that Trump’s status as a candidate should be taken into account at the time of trial.
“President Trump is running for President of the United States and is currently the likely Republican Party nominee,” they wrote. “This undertaking requires a great deal of time and energy, and that effort will continue through the November 5, 2024 election.”
“Mr. Nauta’s job requires him to accompany President Trump on most campaign trips across the country,” they continued. “This schedule makes trial preparation with both defendants challenging. Such preparation requires planning and significant time.
Mr. Trump’s filing came in response to one filed last month by prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith, who requested a December 11 trial date. he scheduled the case to go to trial in August.
On Monday, just hours before Trump’s lawyers requested a delay in the trial, a Nauta attorney asked Judge Cannon to delay a hearing to discuss the issue of classified materials in the case that had been scheduled for Friday. . The defense and the prosecution finally agreed to delay the hearing, which will take place in the Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Florida, until next Tuesday.
Judge Cannon has yet to give her approval to that time change.
In making their case for a delayed trial, Trump’s lawyers cited the extensive evidence of discovery provided to them by the government.
The first disclosure of the discovery, they said, contained more than 833,450 pages of material, including some 122,650 emails and 305,670 other documents. The lawyers said that after subsequent evidence was provided, they would likely make further requests to the government for more information.
The lawyers also pointed to the complex process of deciding how to handle the confidential materials at the heart of the case under the Classified Information Procedures Act, the subject of the hearing that had been scheduled for Friday. The lawyers strongly hinted that they were going to fight the government during the pretrial litigation over classified material, a process that could consume a significant amount of time.
“In general, the defendants believe that there simply should be no ‘secret’ evidence, nor any facts hidden from public view in connection with the prosecution of a prominent presidential candidate by his political opponent,” the attorneys wrote. “Our democracy demands nothing less than full transparency.”
In addition to his request for a delay, the filing served as a preview of Trump’s legal strategy, as the lawyers laid out the ways in which they planned to attack his impeachment.
The lawyers suggested, for example, that they intended to challenge some of the charges he faces by arguing that the Presidential Records Act allowed Trump to take White House documents. That interpretation of the Watergate-era law runs counter to how legal experts interpret it and was unsuccessful during a protracted legal battle last year over an outside arbitrator who was appointed to review a trove of materials seized by the FBI. from Mar-a. -Lake, private club and residence of Mr. Trump in Florida.
Trump’s lawyers also suggested they could bring “constitutional and statutory challenges” to Smith’s authority as special counsel. Furthermore, they set the stage for questions about whether an impartial jury could sit on trial while Trump was running for office.
“There is simply no question that any trial of this action during the pendency of a presidential election will affect both the outcome of that election and, more importantly, the defendants’ ability to obtain a fair trial,” they wrote.