Trump trials could take place near Election Day, DOJ says, sparring over timeline for classified docs case

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The judge in the classified documents case against Donald Trump ended a key scheduling hearing on Friday without setting a new trial date, leaving it unclear if the former president will stand trial for the case this year.

The court adjourned after about four hours, during which Judge Aileen Cannon heard differing arguments from prosecutors working in special counsel Jack Smith’s office and Trump's lawyers over when the trial should be held. Cannon had originally scheduled the trial to begin May 20 but has been widely expected to push it back.

On Friday, Justice Department prosecutors proposed a July 8 start date, while Trump's defense team, which initially proposed an Aug. 12 start date, said that it would be "unfair" to hold the trial before November's presidential election.

Donald Trump (Jon Cherry / Getty Images file)
Donald Trump (Jon Cherry / Getty Images file)

The former president's lawyers argued a pre-election trial would be logistically difficult because of the other legal cases against him. They said that the government’s proposed July start date is “completely unworkable” and “an impossibility for the defendant.” The former president’s attorneys said they have to focus on the upcoming hush money trial that’s set to begin March 25 in New York and is expected to last about six weeks.

His defense team also said that the trials should wait until after the Supreme Court rules on his claims of presidential immunity because their ruling could affect how the case proceeds. The charges in the Florida case are related to actions he took after leaving the White House.

The defense lawyers also argued that the trial should be delayed until after a hearing on evidence, which the special counsel’s office disagreed with. It’s unclear what evidence Trump’s team was asking to review.

Stanley Woodward, the lawyer for co-defendant Walt Nauta, a close Trump aide, argued that a post-election trial date was needed because they are still dealing with discovery issues. Woodward said, for example, that there is a search warrant for Nauta’s iCloud account. He said Sept. 9 was the earliest possible feasible trial date for his client.

Notably, prosecutors from the special counsel's office signaled during the hearing that the DOJ's policy against taking actions close to an election does not apply to the federal indictments against Trump.

Cannon raised the issue of the DOJ's "60-day rule" against taking actions that might affect an upcoming election. Speaking for the government, Jay Bratt said that the policy doesn't apply to cases that have already been indicted and are being litigated. He said the department's public integrity section reviewed the rule to ensure the special counsel's office would comply.

"We are in full compliance with the justice manual," Bratt said during the hearing, which Trump attended in person.

Follow live updates on today's Trump hearing

Trump's attorney Todd Blanche said that the appropriate question would be if the court determines that the trial could not take place before the fall, the "real question is whether they agree it'd be complete election interference."

Asked by Cannon how many potential witnesses the government has for the trial, David Harbach from the special counsel's office, said that the initial list was "80-something" but estimated that it would be "somewhere in the neighborhood of 40," 25 of whom would be redacted.

Cannon had hinted in a November ruling about potentially delaying the trial, citing Trump's complaints about the amount of discovery and documents that his legal team will have to review. She suggested that the former president will need significant time to review the evidence, but she acknowledged that she has to balance that "against the public's right to a speedy trial."

Cannon also acknowledged that dates for Trump's other trials will affect the timeline for the Florida trial. She said at the time that "the schedules as they currently stand overlap substantially with the deadlines in this case, presenting additional challenges to ensuring Defendant Trump has adequate time to prepare for trial and to assist in his defense."

Trump is facing 40 criminal charges in the case, including willful retention of national defense information, false statements and representations, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and corruptly concealing documents. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Trump's co-defendants in the case, Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, have also pleaded not guilty to related charges against them in the indictment. Smith's office accused Nauta and De Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager, of trying to delete security video at the Palm Beach club after the Justice Department sought to obtain it.

Cannon's decision will be critical in shaping the timeline for Trump's court proceedings this year as he also faces trials in three other cases: the hush money charges in New York and separate election interference charges in Washington, D.C., and Fulton County, Georgia.

The New York trial will begin late next month, with jury selection scheduled to begin March 25, and is estimated to last about six weeks. The Washington trial, which was originally set for March 4, was indefinitely postponed as the Supreme Court weighs Trump's claims of presidential immunity. A trial in the Georgia case has not been scheduled, and it's up in the air whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will be able to prosecute the case following misconduct claims against her. On Friday afternoon, a Fulton County judge is hearing closing arguments on the motion to disqualify Willis.

In every case, Trump has sought to either get the charges tossed or at least delay key deadlines to buy as much time as possible to avoid trials before November's presidential election.

Trump has said that he had the right to take classified documents from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The superseding 40-count indictment brought by the special counsel's office last July alleged that Trump obstructed the ongoing federal investigation by being part of a scheme to delete security video at Mar-a-Lago to conceal boxes of classified documents that the National Archives had said he must return.

Daniel Barnes reported from Fort Pierce. Rebecca Shabad reported from Washington.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com