Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s classified documents case sharply rebuke Judge’s unusual and ‘flawed’ order
Image via AP.

Donald Trump
'Indeed, based on the current record, the (Presidential Records Act) should not play any role at trial at all.'

Federal prosecutors chided the Judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case in Florida, warning her off potential jury instructions that they said rest on a “fundamentally flawed legal premise.”

In an unusual order, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon had asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to file proposed jury instructions for most of the charges even though it remains unclear when the case might reach trial. She asked the lawyers to respond to competing interpretations of the law that appeared to accept the Republican ex-President’s argument that he was entitled under a statute known as the Presidential Records Act to retain the sensitive documents he is now charged with possessing.

The order surprised legal experts and alarmed Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team, which said in a filing late Tuesday that that 1978 law — which requires Presidents to return presidential records to the government upon leaving office but permits them to retain purely personal ones — has no relevance in a case concerning highly classified documents.

Those records, prosecutors said, were clearly not personal and there is no evidence Trump ever designated them as such. They said that the suggestion he did so was “invented” only after it became public that he had taken with him to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach after his presidency boxes of records from the White House and that none of the witnesses they interviewed in the investigation support his argument.

“Not a single one had heard Trump say that he was designating records as personal or that, at the time he caused the transfer of boxes to Mar-a-Lago, he believed that his removal of records amounted to designating them as personal under the PRA,” prosecutors wrote. “To the contrary, every witness who was asked this question had never heard such a thing.”

Smith’s team said that if the Judge insists on citing the presidential records law in her jury instructions, she should let the lawyers know as soon as possible so they can appeal.

The filing reflects continued exasperation by prosecutors at Cannon’s handling of the case.

The Trump-appointed Judge has yet to rule on multiple defense motions to dismiss the case as well as other disagreements between the two sides, and the trial date remains in flux, suggesting that a prosecution that Smith’s team has said features overwhelming evidence could remain unresolved by the time of the November Presidential Election.

Cannon, who earlier faced blistering criticism over her decision to grant Trump’s request for an independent arbiter to review documents obtained during an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, heard arguments last month on two of Trump’s motions to dismiss the case: that the Presidential Records Act permitted him to designate the documents as personal and that he was therefore permitted to retain them.

The Judge appeared skeptical of that position but did not immediately rule. Days later, she asked the two sides to craft jury instructions that responded to the following premise: “A president has sole authority under the PRA to categorize records as personal or presidential during his/her presidency. Neither a court nor a jury is permitted to make or review such a categorization decision.”

An outgoing President’s decision to exclude personal records from those returned to the government, she continued, “constitutes a president’s categorization of those records as personal under the PRA.”

That interpretation of the law is wrong, prosecutors said. They also urged Cannon to move quickly in rejecting the defense motion to dismiss.

“The PRA’s distinction between personal and presidential records has no bearing on whether a former President’s possession of documents containing national defense information is authorized under the Espionage Act, and the PRA should play no role in the jury instructions on the elements of Section 793,” they said, citing the statute that makes it a crime to illegally retain national defense information.

“Indeed, based on the current record, the PRA should not play any role at trial at all,” they added.

Trump, Republicans’ presumptive nominee for 2024, is facing dozens of felony counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, according to an indictment alleging he improperly shared a Pentagon “plan of attack” and a classified map related to a military operation. The Florida case is among four criminal cases against the former President, who has insisted he did nothing wrong in any of them.

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Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


7 comments

  • Michael K

    April 3, 2024 at 11:07 am

    Judge Cannon is in over her head. Legal precedent means nothing to these Leonard Leo picks. She’s a hack, just running the clock. The law has been clear since Nixon – and the former president lied on multiple occasions about the documents he unlawfully kept, and he obstructed justice. He “believes” that he is above the law – not a good character trait for someone aspiring to the highest office in the land. No one is above the law. No one. Not even a former (or current) president.

    Reply

  • PeterH

    April 3, 2024 at 11:22 am

    After Trump selected Cannon to be a judge ….. retired lawyers and judges from coast to coast deemed her “unqualified” to sit on the bench.
    Repeatedly her rulings are proving that Trump “never picks the very best people!”

    Reply

  • And beyond the fact that she’s an out-and-out hack…

    April 3, 2024 at 11:39 am

    In any system worthy of respect, a judge would recuse himself or herself before sitting in judgment of the person who appointed them in the first place.

    Reply

  • Phil Morton

    April 3, 2024 at 11:58 am

    This case should have been tried and over months ago. This judge needs to be disbarred, impeached and run out of the state.

    Reply

  • Dont Say FLA

    April 4, 2024 at 12:25 pm

    She just trying to evade the angry MAGA retribution by saying her trial found Trump not guilty despite her intentionally providing a trail of bread crumbs loaves of bread for the appellate court to hang him out to dry. Blame them. Not her.

    Don’t fall for it, angry MAGAs! She is only pretending to let Trump go, but she is really only CYAing herself, thinking she’s insulating herself from Tiki Torch retribution.

    Every decision she issues is issued as groundwork for the prosecution to appeal. I’m no lawyer and neither probably are many MAGAs, but this strategery is just blatant. Don’t need no lar degree to see.

    Reply

  • Monday news

    April 4, 2024 at 5:46 pm

    What ever it is.,too many investigating on this critter of a machine.
    The investigating is kind of warped.

    Reply

  • Monday news

    April 6, 2024 at 10:42 am

    This article is like my comment dumb and dumber.
    Today’s world is about geopolitical risks along with investigating.
    Like any economic boom I see priorities in climate, digital,bio, renewables,agri
    We all must keep with the pace.

    Reply

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