Sunday, October 1, 2023

Fla. Judge Shoots Down Biden DOJ’s Attempt to Rush Trump Trial to Dec.

'It is intellectually dishonest to say this case is like any other case...'

(Headline USAA federal judge signaled Tuesday that December may be too soon to begin former President Donald Trump’s politically motivated trial concerning the mishandling of classified documents.

But Judge Aileen Cannon did not say whether she would agree to Trump’s request to put the trial off until after the 2024 election, in which the former president is currently the GOP frontrunner by a large margin.

Cannon said she would issue a written order “promptly” after the nearly two-hour hearing in federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, where Trump’s lawyers pressed for an indefinite delay of a trial date.

The sparring over setting a trial date, a routine matter in criminal cases, underscores the unprecedented nature of prosecuting a former president who is also running to reclaim the White House in 2024.

It reopens a line of attack that Democrats themselves made in their previous politically motivated effort to impeach Trump for a phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. During the call, Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to reopen a corruption probe into the Biden family that then-Vice President Joe Biden himself had forced into dormancy by coercing the prior administration to fire the investigating prosecutor.

Democrats claimed at the time that Trump’s intention was purely political, using the alleged “quid pro quo” as the main basis for their impeachment attack. However, evidence has shown that the Bidens were, indeed, involved in a bribery scheme related to the Burisma energy company.

With the tables now turned, special counsel Jack Smith must prove that his dual indictments of Trump—part of an extensive lawfare attack against the rival political leader—are more than an unprecedented political ploy to undermine America’s democratic process.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers say the Republican can’t get a fair trial ahead of the election.

They insist need more time to review evidence and prepare for what they describe as a complex case following the imposition of an onerous set of guidelines for evidentiary discovery.

The judge repeatedly pressed Trump’s lawyers to set some dates and a more concrete timetable, but acknowledged she understood they needed more time to review documents and footage.

“We need to set a timetable,” Cannon said. “Some deadlines can be established now.”

She also questioned prosecutors on whether there were other similar cases involving classified documents tried in such a short time frame.

Smith’s team, which is pushing for the trial to begin in December, told the judge the case is not complex and there’s no need for a lengthy delay. They rejected insinuations by the defense that Trump was charged because he’s running for president. Prosecutor David Harbach claimed there was “no political influence.”

“No one in our team is a political appointee,” he said, noting that they are all career prosecutors.

Smith himself has a long track record of involvement in highly partisan prosecutions, including some high-profile failures during the Obama administration. After IRS bureaucrat Lois Lerner flagged Republican nonprofits and denied then their tax-exempt status in the 2012 election, giving advantage to Democrat ones, Smith reportedly added insult to injury by attempting to prosecute the innocent right-wing activist groups. Lerner ultimately was charged with contempt of Congress but faced no consequences from the Obama Justice Department.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first time arguments were held in front of Cannon, after Smith earlier tried to have much of the preliminary trial work done using a more government-friendly Washington, D.C. judge who allowed him access to a secret grand jury for the indictment.

Democrats have already begun targeting Cannon, a Trump appointee who last year allowed the appointment of a special master to review the classified materials following the FBI’s unprecedented raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. That decision was later reversed on appeal.

Trump’s co-defendant, Walt Nauta, attended the hearing, but Trump did not. He traveled Tuesday to Iowa, where he was taping a town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

The court date unfolded hours after Trump disclosed that he had received a target letter from the Justice Department in a separate investigation by Smith attempting to charge him with staging insurrection during the Jan. 6, 2021 uprising at the U.S. Capitol.

Democrats already attempted to impeach Trump over those same charges but failed to convict him in the Senate. Smith’s case is likely an extension of the work of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked Jan. 6 Committee, a highly produced, made-for-TV spectacle that went defunct after Republicans took the House majority in January.

Harbach told the judge that Trump’s legal team has repeatedly suggested he should be treated differently because he’s running for president.

“He should be treated like anybody else,” Harbach said. “He is not different than any other busy, important person.”

But Todd Blanche, one of Trump’s lawyers, pushed back against the idea that this case be treated like any other. Trump’s team said it believes the circumstances to ensure a fair trial would improve after the election.

“It is intellectually dishonest to say this case is like any other case,” Blanche said. “It is not.”

Chris Kise, a Trump lawyer, asked the judge to consider the amount of attention the case was receiving and whether finding impartial jurors would be possible before an election. But Cannon said she wanted to first focus on discovery and set a concrete “road map” for the case.

Kise suggested meeting again in November to discuss scheduling the trial. As the hearing was about to end, Kise said a trial date of mid-November 2024 would be preferred.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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