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Florida judge: Trump documents trial will start in May

Defense had wanted to delay case until after November election

In this photo illustration, pages are viewed from the unsealed federal indictment of former President Donald Trump.
In this photo illustration, pages are viewed from the unsealed federal indictment of former President Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

A Florida federal judge on Friday set former President Donald Trump’s trial on federal charges of mishandling sensitive documents for next May, throwing gasoline on an already-burning election issue.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon said in Friday’s order that the former president would face a two-week jury trial starting May 20, despite arguments from attorneys for the 77-year-old politician to delay the trial until after the 2024 presidential election. Prosecutors had sought to have the trial start in December, but Trump’s attorneys argued it would limit his ability to get a fair trial during the presidential election cycle. 

In Friday’s order, Cannon also set a pre-trial schedule in the case and wrote that “discovery in this case is exceedingly voluminous and will require substantial time to review and digest in accordance with Defendants’ right to a fair trial.”

Cannon wrote that the government’s proposed December trial date was “atypically accelerated and inconsistent with ensuring a fair trial.”

“While the Government has taken steps to organize and filter the extensive discovery, no one disagrees that Defendants need adequate time to review and evaluate it on their own accord,” Cannon wrote.

Prosecutors led by special counsel John L. “Jack” Smith filed the indictment against Trump in June, alleging he kept highly classified documents at his private club Mar-a-Lago after the end of his presidency.

Trump, the front-runner in the race for the 2024 Republican nomination, pleaded not guilty to the charges and accused prosecutors of indicting him on behalf of President Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection.

The timing of the trial, which will include numerous hearings about the evidence in the case, is certain to roil the presidential campaign and stir a response from Republicans in Congress.

The May trial would take place after a majority of states would have voted in the presidential primary but before the Republican National Convention in July where the party’s nominee would be formally chosen. Only a handful of states, including Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico have primaries that would occur after the trial ended.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, a Biden appointee, named Smith a special counsel last year, after Trump announced his reelection campaign.

The Florida trial is just one of several legal battles the former president will face in the next 12 months. Prosecutors in New York intend to hold a March trial on state charges alleging Trump falsified dozens of business records in an attempt to hide hush money payments to two women during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Just this week, prosecutors there defeated an attempt by Trump to move that case to federal court.

In addition, Smith is still shepherding a grand jury probe based in Washington, D.C., into Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss. Trump on Truth Social earlier this week said he had received a letter noting he was a target of that probe.

The Justice Department has not announced any charges in that probe. But media reports have outlined a broad investigation into efforts from Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election and keep him in the White House. 

Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis has also indicated that she may file charges this summer in a probe into Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss in that state in 2020.

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