Experts: Judge Cannon just set the “worst possible” Trump trial date for the Republican Party

Donald Trump Ronda Churchill for The Washington Post via Getty Images
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal judge in Miami overseeing the former president's Mar-a-Lago documents case, on Friday set a trial date for next May after Trump sought to delay it until after the 2024 election.

The timeline of the case became a point of contention for federal prosecutors, who wanted to start the trial as soon as December, and defense attorneys, who argued that Cannon should not set a trial date at all due to Trump's presidential campaign.

Cannon heard arguments from both parties on Tuesday and said she would decide promptly. On Friday, she scheduled the date for the jury trial in the Fort Pierce Division of the U.S. District Court in Southern Florida to start in the two-week period that begins May 20, 2024.

According to Politico, Cannon has also labeled the case "complex," despite the Justice Department arguing that, as a legal matter, the case isn't especially complicated and, thus, does not need to be drawn out.

The former president is the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, which "means any trial that takes place before the election will likely resonate across the campaign trail," according to The Washington Post. His defense argued that the trial should be postponed until after the election because the vote will make it more challenging for an impartial jury to be seated and suggested the trial could impact the course of the election.

Cannon's ruling, however, sets the trial late in the Republican primary schedule, just weeks before the 2024 Republican National Convention.

"This is the worst possible outcome for the Republican Party. Great for Trump though," Georgia State Law professor and political scientist Anthony Kreis wrote of the trial date on Twitter.

"This basically allows Trump to snag the nomination before the most easily damning case comes to trial," he added.

Trump's attorneys also noted, in addition to his campaign schedule, Trump will be embroiled in other legal battles in the near future. He is facing criminal charges in Manhattan in connection to hush money payments made to an adult film star with a trial slated for that case in March 2024, and civil lawsuits scheduled to go to trial in New York this fall and next year. He's also the subject of two other criminal investigations — one in Georgia and the other a federal probe — in connection to his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Prosecutors, however, pushed for beginning the trial as early as December, acknowledging that the date would present an "aggressive" timeline but dismissing calls for delay. They argued that their proposed schedule would give Trump's attorneys plenty of time to review evidence from the discovery period. Prosecutors also recognized that jury selection in this case could be lengthy but cited that as a reason why proceedings should begin sooner rather than later.

Some legal experts conceded that Cannon's Friday decision on a timeline for the trial was a good one, arguing that it falls in a sweet spot between being rushed and drawn out.

"The 5/20/24 trial date that Cannon just set is about as extended as it could be without seeming ridiculous," former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman said in a tweet.

"May was the perfect choice, actually. Not so soon that it's unachievable. Yet early enough that even some additional postponements would still allow the case to be tried before next fall," lawyer George Conway added. "Good for Judge Cannon."

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Other experts, however, expressed concern that, despite being a reasonable timeline now, the trial date could be pushed further due to potential delays from the defense.

"[B]ig win for Jack Smith on trial date. But the key is making this schedule stick," NYU Law professor Andrew Weissmann, who served as a senior prosecutor on special counsel Robert Mueller's team, wrote on Twitter.

"Here's the thing—in a case like this, plenty of opportunity for Trump to manufacture delay & if this date slips, it makes it far less likely trial happens before the election," former U.S. Attorney and federal prosecutor Joyce Vance tweeted, adding that "setting it in Fort Pierce with its tiny courtroom & no cameras allowed is a disservice to democracy."

Trump and his longtime aide, Walt Nauta, were indicted last month on a total of 38 counts. Trump is accused of illegally retaining classified documents after leaving office and obstructing the government's efforts to retrieve them, while Nauta is alleged to have assisted Trump in his efforts to hoard sensitive materials and making false statements to the government. Both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Read more

about Judge Aileen Cannon