Trial in Donald Trump’s classified documents case set for May

Jury trial of former US president to begin on May 20, less than six months before presidential election.

Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table in a Manhattan court
Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, faces a slew of legal troubles [File: Seth Wenig/AP Photo]

The trial of former United States President Donald Trump over charges of mishandling top secret documents will begin in May next year, a federal judge has said.

US District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who oversees the Fort Pierce, Florida court, on Friday ordered the jury trial to begin on May 20.

The date is a compromise between a request from prosecutors to set the trial for December 2023 and a request from defence lawyers to schedule it after the November 2024 presidential election.

Trump, 77, is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination and the trial will be held at the height of the primary campaign to select the party’s flag-bearer for the election.

In court filings earlier in July, Trump’s legal team had argued that a December start date was not a realistic amount of time for either side to prepare.

His lawyers also questioned whether the former president would receive a fair trial before the election, while noting campaigning “requires a tremendous amount of time and energy”.

Nevertheless, Trump hailed the new trial date in a statement on Friday, calling it a “major setback to the DOJ’s crusade to deny President Trump a fair legal process”. Trump has repeatedly claimed federal prosecutors are politically motivated and aim to derail his presidential ambitions.

An image contained in the federak indictment against former President Donald Trump shows boxes of records in a storage room at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida [US Justice Department via The Associated Press]

The trial represents uncharted territory for US politics.

Trump is first former or current US president to face criminal charges.

No US presidential candidate, let alone a party frontrunner, has navigated the sure-to-be lengthy time demands of a single criminal trial during campaign season, let alone two.

Beyond the federal documents case, Trump has also been charged in a New York state case for allegedly falsifying business documents related to hush-money payments made to a porn star. That trial is currently set to begin in March of 2024.

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a request to have the New York trial moved to federal court.

Trump’s legal team had argued the change of venue was needed because the matter related to his duties as president. The judge responded that the charges related to his personal, not presidential, conduct.

Trump pleaded not guilty in the New York state case in April. He pleaded not guilty in the federal documents case in a Florida court room in June.

Supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump
Supporters of former US President Donald Trump gather outside of the Trump National Doral resort in Miami, Florida ahead of his first federal court appearance [Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

In the federal case, Trump faces 37 felony counts connected to allegedly removing classified documents from the White House and hoarding and hiding them at his at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

His aide, Walt Nauta, has also been charged with obstructing the Department of Justice’s investigation into the documents.

Trump is the subject of at least two more criminal investigations that could result in charges in the coming months.

On Tuesday, Trump revealed he had received a letter identifying him as the target of a separate Department of Justice investigation into efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election.

The scope of that investigation includes his actions before and during the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Trump is also the subject of a criminal probe in Georgia looking into alleged efforts to pressure an election official into altering the results of the state’s 2020 vote.

The state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked Trump’s petition to block the case.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies