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Trump's trial over classified documents in Florida could start as soon as this summer

Former President Trump's trial on charges of withholding classified documents could start as soon as July. In Fort Pierce, Fla., U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon heard arguments Friday about when the trial will begin. Prosecutors want it to begin in July. Trump's lawyers want to postpone it until next year, after the presidential election.

Trump is accused of conspiring with an aide and the property manager of his Mar-a-Lago residence and club to hide classified and top-secret documents from federal investigators. All have pleaded not guilty to some 40 felony counts.

Under the original schedule, the trial was supposed to start in May. But the case has moved much more slowly than even U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon seems to have anticipated. Much of that has to do with Trump's defense. The former president's lawyers have sought access to reams of classified material, leading to extensive motions filed under seal and a closed two-day hearing.

More recently, Trump's lawyers filed at least a dozen motions asking Cannon to dismiss the case. In court Friday, they argued that government case is politically motivated. They want the judge to hold a hearing to force the government to produce evidence of what they say is a "selective and vindictive" prosecution. Prosecutors say no such evidence exists and that it would be unprecedented to grant a hearing in the matter.

Cannon gave no indication when she might decide on a trial schedule. If the trial begins over the summer, as prosecutors want, it could possibly be completed before the November presidential election. Defense lawyer Todd Blanche told the judge he thinks a trial would take four to five weeks, not including jury selection.

Although Trump has asked for an August trial date, his lawyers said Friday they think the trial should be put off until well after the election. "It's completely wrong and unfair to the American people and to former President Trump that he has to spend six weeks here in court rather than out campaigning," Blanche told the judge.

Cannon asked government prosecutors whether the possible timing of the trial conflicted with Justice Department rules that limit prosecutions of candidates within 60 days of an election. Prosecutor Jay Bratt said they don't pertain in this case. "The 60-day rule," Bratt said, "is tied to the date of the indictment, not the trial."

Also affecting the timing of the Mar-a-Lago documents proceedings are three other criminal trial Trump is facing. On March 25, Trump is scheduled to go on trial in New York on charges of making hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump and one of his lawyers in the Mar-a-Lago case will have to be at that trial, which might tie them up for weeks.

Another issue that might delay proceedings in the Mar-a-Lago case is whether potential witnesses will be identified. The judge surprised many legal experts last month when she said witness names could be made public in court filings before they testified. Prosecutors objected, saying in a strongly worded brief that the judge "made a clear error." On Friday, Cannon seemed a stung by that criticism. She told the special counsel that "the court takes matters of openness quite seriously from all angles."

Prosecutors say revealing the names of potential witnesses would expose them to threats and harassment, something that has already happened in this case. Last year, after FBI agents executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, prosecutors say some agents were threatened and harassed.

Both special counsel Jack Smith and Donald Trump also attended the hearing in Fort Pierce. Smith sat behind prosecutors and quietly observed the proceedings. Trump also was subdued. He sat at the defense table, chatted with his attorneys and left the courthouse without making any comment. [Copyright 2024 NPR]

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