A federal judge in Florida has scheduled a trial date for next May for former President Donald Trump in a case charging him with illegally retaining hundreds of classified documents.
The May 20, 2024, trial date, set for Friday by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, is a compromise between a request from prosecutors to set the trial for this December and a bid by defence lawyers to put it off indefinitely until sometime after the 2024 presidential election.
If the date holds, it would follow close on the heels of a separate New York trial for Mr. Trump on dozens of state charges of falsifying business records in connection with an alleged hush money payment to a porn actor.
It also means the trial would not start until deep into the presidential nominating calendar and probably well after the Republican nominee is clear — though before that person is officially nominated at the Republican National Convention.
In pushing back the trial from the December 11 start date that the Justice Department had asked for, Judge Cannon wrote that “the government’s proposed schedule is atypically accelerated and inconsistent with ensuring a fair trial”.
She agreed with defence lawyers that the amount of evidence that would need to be sifted through before the trial, including classified information, was “voluminous and likely to increase in the normal course as trial approaches”.
“The Court finds that the interests of justice served by this continuance outweigh the best interest of the public and Defendants in a speedy trial,” Judge Cannon wrote.
In a statement referring to the Department of Justice, the Trump campaign called Judge Cannon’s order “a major setback to the DOJ’s crusade to deny President Trump a fair legal process. The extensive schedule allows President Trump and his legal team to continue fighting this empty hoax”.
Mr. Trump could yet face additional trials in the coming year. He revealed this week that he had received a letter informing him that he was a target of a separate Justice Department investigation into efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election, an indication that charges could be coming soon.
The target letter referred to multiple distinct statutes Mr. Trump could be charged with violating, including conspiracy to defraud the government, according to a person familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss private correspondence.
Mr. Trump’s new lawyer in that investigation, John Lauro, told Fox News on July 21 that prosecutors appeared to be accusing Mr. Trump of “some kind of effort to obstruct” the January 6, 2021, counting of state electoral votes and “whether or not President Trump intimidated anyone or ballot stuffed”.
He said Mr. Trump would not be appearing before a grand jury because “he did absolutely nothing wrong”.
“He’s done nothing criminal,” Mr. Lauro said. “And he’s made his case that he was entitled to take these positions as president of the United States. When he saw all these election discrepancies and irregularities going on, he did what any president was required to do because he took an oath to do exactly that.” Multiple judges appointed by Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump’s own attorney general said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have affected the outcome of the election.
Prosecutors in Georgia, meanwhile, plan to announce charging decisions within weeks in an investigation into attempts by Mr. Trump and his allies to subvert the vote in that state.
The trial before Cannon would take place in a federal courthouse in Fort Pierce.
It arises from a 38-count indictment last month, filed by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith, that accused Trump of willfully hoarding classified documents, including top secret records, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and conspiring with his valet, Walt Nauta, to hide them from investigators who demanded them back.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Nauta have both pleaded not guilty.