Legal experts warn Judge Aileen Cannon is "setting up to give Trump another fat delay" in docs trial

Jack Smith; Donald Trump Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Jack Smith; Donald Trump Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
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U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Wednesday signaled that she may delay the start of Donald Trump's classified documents trial in South Florida, pointing to the former president's other criminal cases as well as the volume of evidence his lawyers have to review.

Trump's trial in the federal case, which alleges he willfully retained national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort club after leaving office and obstructed government efforts to retrieve them, is currently scheduled for May 20, 2024. But, according to The Associated Press, Cannon appeared ready to agree with Trump's attorneys' request to postpone the trial, noting that she “has a hard time seeing how realistically this (current schedule) would work” despite prosecutors' push to maintain the scheduled start date.

The Florida case, brought by special counsel Jack Smith, is one of four criminal cases Trump is facing that could see a trial in 2024. The other criminal case Smith brought against the former president over his alleged plot to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat, is slated to begin in March in Washington, D.C.

A parallel Georgia trial, in which Trump is charged with conspiring to subvert the election in the state, and trial for a New York case accusing Trump of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to an adult film actress could begin in the next year, but neither has a set date. The former president is currently on trial in a civil case in New York alleging business fraud.

On Wednesday, Cannon highlighted the 1.3 million pages of evidence that prosecutors have given to the defense along with thousands of hours of security video captured at Mar-a-Lago. She questioned if Trump's attorneys would have enough time to review the evidence in the next six months.

“I am not quite seeing a level of understanding on your part to these realities,” Cannon told Jay Bratt, a prosecutor on Smith's team.

Bratt told Cannon that Trump's attorneys have been pushing from the beginning to have the trial delayed until after the 2024 election, where he aims to win back the White House. He explained that because of defense motions to delay the D.C. trial and dismiss the charges, there is a chance that the trial will be postponed, adding that Cannon “should not let the D.C. trial drive the schedule here.”

Bratt went on to note that his team has provided the defense with a directory of the Mar-a-Lago documents to aid their preparation and informed them of the portions of security video they plan to play at trial, footage prosecutors have said shows boxed being moved in and out of a storage room at the property in an attempt to hide them from investigators.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told Cannon that she and prosecutors need to be realistic about the schedule, particularly since the classified materials can only be read in specific government rooms with heightened security.

“It has been extremely difficult to have access,” he said.

Cannon then declared that she would make a decision on the trial date in the coming days.

In an effort to reach Cannon ahead of that decision, according to Politico's Josh Gerstein, Bratt submitted a filing early Thursday morning furthering his argument to keep Trump's trial in the case on the current schedule.

In the filing, Bratt informs Cannon that Trump's lawyers asked the judge overseeing his D.C. case for a stay until the issue around presidential immunity is resolved. He added that Trump and his attorneys "failed to disclose" their planned motion to stay at Wednesday's hearing,

"Defendant Trump’s actions in the hours following the hearing in this case illustrate the point and confirm his overriding interest in delaying both trials at any cost," Bratt wrote.

Legal experts questioned Cannon's apparent inclination to delay the D.C. trial online with many noting that with the current schedule, there is more than enough time for review ahead of the start date.

"Special counsel Jack Smith estimated trial time in the DC case at 4 to 6 weeks. As scheduled, there is plenty of time," former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"The Manhattan DA's case, set for late March, might have to be moved if the DC case isn't finished in time, but even if moved back a few weeks instead of rescheduled for later, could be complete in time for the MAL start date," she added. "Judge Cannon is intent on finding reasons to delay."

"Judge Cannon should not be focused on the DC trial date as a reason to delay hers," Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor, tweeted. "There's a good chance the DC date will be pushed back due to an interlocutory appeal on the presidential immunity motion."

CNN legal analyst Norman Eisen told host Wolf Blitzer that he believes the trial could still happen before the 2024 presidential election, adding on X that "there's no reason to push Trump's to after the election."

"The Mar-a-Lago documents case is not an unusually complex one, and we've seen national security cases — like the Paul Manafort case — move on as fast or even faster timetables," Eisen said during the CNN appearance. "The judge, if she relaxes that May deadline, she could move it to the summer.

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"It is important to get that trial in before the presidential season starts in earnest. She'll know more about whether Donald Trump is or is not the candidate of the Republican party by then, so I do think it is possible to get it in," he continued.

"If you compare Judge Chutkan, Wolf, she's brooking no delay, she's not accepting these excuses," Eisen added, referring to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who's presiding over Trump's D.C. case. "She's pushing that case forward, the federal Jan. 6 case, for March, and that is the way to manage a trial docket in my view."

Other legal experts criticized Cannon for entertaining a delay in the trial schedule.

"Judge Cannon setting up to give Trump another fat delay, & doing it w/ side swipes at the government. 'I’m having a hard time seeing how this work can be accomplished realistically in this period of time,'" former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman tweeted, quoting Cannon. "Even setting aside possible bias, her trial management skills are poor."

"Trump’s documents/obstruction/espionage case may very well suffer death by a thousand Cannon continuances," said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor.