Judge Cannon Requests Hypothetical Directions in Trump Docs Case



In the case regarding Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon has ordered lawyers to propose jury instructions by April 2 related to defense motions aiming to dismiss the indictment. Despite not ruling on the trial’s timing yet, Cannon appears to be preparing for the potential trial, particularly focusing on jury instructions and how to evaluate evidence. Trump’s defense claims that the Presidential Records Act allows him to declare classified documents as personal property; however, Judge Cannon, along with national security law experts, have expressed skepticism over this argument.

The Trial of Donald Trump’s Classified Documents Case

Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the U.S. District Court, who is overseeing Donald Trump’s classified-documents case, issued a late Monday order for lawyers to submit proposed jury instructions by April 2 related to defense motions. This order is notable despite her not yet deciding when the trial will be held among other issues.

Judge Cannon, appointed by Trump in late 2020, heard arguments on these defense motions last week. In the hearing, she expressed doubts about Trump’s criticisms of the Espionage Act and the Presidential Records Act being strong enough to prevent his trial. However, she suggested that some of Trump’s points might be significant during jury instructions.

By focusing on jury instructions, which guide juries on evidence evaluation before deliberation, Cannon is not just anticipating a trial but also focusing on its conclusion. She also hinted at accepting some defense claims that the Presidential Records Act permits Trump to declare highly classified documents as personal property. However, experts in national security law contradict this interpretation.

Judge Cannon prompted the prosecution and defense to consider two hypothetical situations and provide alternative draft text for each scenario. The first scenario involves the jury determining whether a former president’s record possession is personal or presidential as per the Presidential Records Act. The second scenario gives the president sole authority to categorize records as personal or presidential during their presidency, with no court or jury able to review or make such decisions.

Trump’s case in Florida is unprecedented, with the former president facing numerous charges for allegedly violating national security laws by storing classified documents at his residence post-presidency and obstructing attempts to recover them. This case is one of four criminal trials Trump is contesting, with his attorneys attempting to delay them until after the election.

Trump and his co-defendants have also filed several motions seeking case dismissal, including a claim by Trump that he is a politically motivated prosecution target. Trump’s lawyers referred to other public officials not charged when classified documents were found at their homes, including the recent decision by special counsel Robert K. Hur not to charge President Biden.

Judge Cannon repeatedly asked how Trump’s conduct differed from other former officials during the hearing and could schedule more motion hearings at any time.

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