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Following hearing, judge will weigh moving date of Trump’s classified docs trial

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(WASHINGTON) — Attorneys for former President Donald Trump and special counsel Jack Smith argued Friday over moving the May 20 trial date in Trump’s federal classified documents case, but the judge in the hearing concluded the proceedings without making an immediate ruling or determination about the when trial will begin.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon heard arguments in a Florida courtroom over the trial date and other issues in the case, during a hearing that was attended by both Trump and Smith.

Jay Bratt of the the special counsel ‘s office told the judge that holding the trial before the November election would not violate Justice Department policy. Bratt pushed for a July start, saying that holding a trial within 60 days of an election would not violate the Justice Department’s typical aversion to bringing politically charged cases so close to an election.

Bratt told Judge Cannon a trial is permissible because the policy does not apply to already indicted matters.

“We are in full compliance with the Justice Department manual,” said Bratt.

“This case can be tried this summer,” Bratt said, accusing the defense of “trying to wring out of the court” endless hearings that do not need to be held.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche argued that it would be “unfair” to put Trump on trial for mishandling classified documents before the election.

“We very much continue to believe that a trial that takes place before the election is a mistake and should not happen,” Blanche said during the scheduling conference in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Blanche said the trial would take between four and five weeks, not including jury selection, and would be better suited to start after the country votes.

“There’s no reason this trial can’t start until late November,” Blanche said.

Smith, in a filing Thursday, proposed a new trial date of July 8, while Trump’s legal team is continuing to propose a trial date after the 2024 election — but said in their own filing that Aug. 12 could be an alternative if Cannon were to disagree with that proposal.

Trump watched Friday’s proceedings from a seat at the defense table, hunched forward with his hands clasped together on the table

Smith was seated behind two prosecutors from his team, Bratt and David Harbach. It was the first time Smith and Trump were in the same courtroom together since the D.C. Circuit court heard arguments on presidential immunity.

Trump’s co-defendants, longtime aide Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago staffer Carlos De Oliveira, also attended the hearing.

During the afternoon session, lawyers for the special counsel’s office reiterated their concern about potential witness intimidation in the case, though they acknowledged that no witnesses have come forward reporting intimidation or harassment by the defendants.

Harbach said that harassment and intimidation follow “cases in which Mr. Trump is a defendant.”

In total, Harbach estimated that roughly 40 witnesses would testify at trial and argued that more than half likely require the redaction of their identities ahead of trial.

“This is not some hypothetical concern — it is real concern, and they know it,” he said.

However, when questioned by Judge Cannon, Harbach noted that no witnesses have so far reported acts of intimidation, though some witnesses have raised concerns about the potential of it.

“It shouldn’t take for someone to get threatened,” he said, to which Cannon agreed.

Defense lawyer Emil Bove immediately pushed back on the concern about witness intimidation.

“We are not here to try and harm people or cause harassment to anyone,” Bove said.

Harbach added that the full list of witnesses would eventually become public closer to trial, but warned against releasing the names early and potentially impacting the witnesses.

“There is going to come a time when witness identities are out there, but now is not it,” he said.

Judge Cannon vowed to take the request under advisement given the need for “openness” in criminal trials.

“What is clear is that these issues are complicated,” she said before dismissing the parties.

Trump’s lawyers have argued in court filings that the case should be entirely dismissed based on Trump’s claim of presidential immunity — an argument that the Supreme Court on Wednesday said they would consider in Trump’s federal election interference case.

Trump pleaded not guilty last June to 37 criminal counts related to his handling of classified materials, after prosecutors said he repeatedly refused to return hundreds of documents containing classified information ranging from U.S. nuclear secrets to the nation’s defense capabilities, and took steps to thwart the government’s efforts to get the documents back. The former president has denied all wrongdoing in the case.

Trump has been attempting to delay the trial for several months, with his attorneys arguing in court filings last year that the extraordinary nature of the case means there should be no reason to expedite the trial. Earlier this month the special counsel’s team said that Trump and his co-defendants “will stop at nothing to stall the adjudication of the charges against them by a fair and impartial jury of citizens.”

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