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Judge rules Trump's Mar-a-Lago classified documents case can proceed

Former President Donald Trump asked that the Mar-a-Lago classified documents trial be thrown out, citing the Presidential Records Act. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon denied the motion and said the case will proceed.
Chandan Khanna
AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump asked that the Mar-a-Lago classified documents trial be thrown out, citing the Presidential Records Act. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon denied the motion and said the case will proceed.

MIAMI — A federal judge in Florida has denied a motion by former President Donald Trump to dismiss charges against him in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Trump is charged with illegally withholding and concealing classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House.

In their motion, Trump's lawyers asserted that the former president was able to designate classified documents as personal and, under the Presidential Records Act, legally retain them after his term ended. By taking them to Mar-a-Lago rather than sending them to the National Archives, his lawyers say, Trump was effectively designating them as personal.

At a hearing in Fort Pierce last month, prosecutors said the charges against Trump have nothing to do with the Presidential Records Act. In the indictment, he is charged with 32 counts of violating the Espionage Act.

In denying the defense motion, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, agreed with prosecutors. She wrote, "Those same counts make no reference to the Presidential Records Act nor do they rely on that statute for purposes of stating an offense."

Judge Cannon's order comes two days after Special Counsel Jack Smith told the judge in a court filing that it's "vitally important" she rule on whether Trump can cite the Presidential Records Act in his defense. That filing came after Cannon ordered prosecutors and Trump's lawyers to produce proposed jury instructions citing the Presidential Records Act.

"If the Court wrongly concludes that it does, and that it intends to include the PRA in the jury instructions ... it must inform the parties of that decision well in advance of trial," Smith wrote. He asked the judge to rule on the issue soon, saying prosecutors might need time to file an appeal.

Although she ruled in the government's favor, Cannon reserved some pointed barbs for Smith in Thursday's order.

She called his critique of her proposed jury instructions "unprecedented and unjust." Asking the parties to submit draft jury instructions related to the Presidential Records Act, she said, was "a genuine attempt, in the context of the upcoming trial to better understand the parties' competing positions."

Responding to Smith's indication he might seek an appeal, Cannon wrotes, "any party remains free to avail itself of whatever appellate options it sees fit to invoke."

Thursday's decision marks the second time in a month that Cannon has denied a motion by Trump to dismiss the charges. The former president's lawyers had argued that the wording of the statute of the Espionage Act that he is charged with violating is unconstitutionally vague. In denying their motion, the judge noted that no judge has ever found the statute unconstitutional.

Cannon's rulings mean the case can move forward; however, she has yet to decide on a trial schedule. Prosecutors want the trial to start this summer, while Trump's lawyers think it should be put off until well after the November presidential election.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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