Donald Trump’s criminal trial for keeping national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago property and obstructing Justice Department efforts to recover them will take place in May 2024 at the courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, the federal judge hearing the case said Friday.
The trial date set by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who largely followed her views in a contentious hearing this week, essentially took a middle ground between prosecutors’ request for a trial this year and Trump’s suggestion that proceedings be delayed until after next year’s election.
Trump was accused last month of withholding national defense information, including US nuclear secrets and plans for US retaliation in the event of an attack, meaning his case will be tried under time-consuming steps set out in the Classified Information Procedures Act, or Cipa.
Cannon’s order set out a schedule for hearings in the various sections of Cipa, with deadlines for motions and pretrial hearings extending through the rest of the year and into 2024. However, prolonged litigation by Trump or prosecutors could further delay proceedings.
The delays in this case are important because of the consequences of a prolonged delay. If the case doesn’t go to trial until after the 2024 election and Trump is re-elected, he could try to forgive himself or order the attorney general to have the Justice Department drop the case.
The May 20, 2024 trial date means it will come after most of the Republican primaries and his criminal trial in New York, but only two months before the Republican National Convention in July, where Trump is the favorite to clinch the nomination.
It remains unclear whether Cannon’s trial date will hold. Notably, Cannon appears to have taken prosecutors’ own estimate that they would only need about two weeks to decide on Section 6(c) of Cipa, where the judge will decide which redactions of classified information are appropriate.
The Justice Department can offer Cannon, for example, that Trump can only present redacted versions of classified documents so they can protect some of the sensitive information from public disclosure.
But Cannon is not required to accept the redacting request, in which case prosecutors could appeal her rulings to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit — a decision that would take significantly longer than the allotted two weeks and significantly push back the current trial date.
The scheduling order was the first major decision in the classified documents prosecution for Cannon, which is under scrutiny for making rulings favorable to the former president during the criminal investigation, before they were overturned on appeal.
In his seven-page order, Cannon gave neither side exactly what they wanted, denying Trump’s request to postpone setting a trial date indefinitely after concluding that some handling of the case was necessary and dismissing the government’s idea of a December trial as “atypically expedited.”
The case was complex and would likely involve multiple pre-trial motions by the defense to exclude evidence and even challenge special counsel Jack Smith’s basis, who brought the case, to indict the former president, Cannon wrote.
“Even accepting the government’s contested argument that nothing in this case presents a ‘new question of fact or law,’ the fact remains that the court will be faced with extensive pre-trial motion practice on a wide range of legal and factual issues,” Cannon wrote.
Cannon also deemed the voluminous discovery warranted a slower timeline, saying it included more than a million pages of unclassified material, at least nine months of surveillance footage, more than 1,500 pages of classified documents, as well as additional material from seized devices.