Judge sets May 2024 trial date for Trump classified documents case

Decision comes after prosecutors asked for proceedings to begin in December, while former president’s defense attorneys requested they be held after November 2024 election

A photo contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on August 30, 2022, shows documents seized during the August 8 search by the FBI of former president Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (Department of Justice via AP)
A photo contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on August 30, 2022, shows documents seized during the August 8 search by the FBI of former president Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (Department of Justice via AP)

MIAMI (AFP) — A US judge on Friday ordered Donald Trump’s trial for mishandling top secret documents to begin in May of next year, at the height of what is expected to be a bitter and divisive presidential election campaign.

US District Court Judge Aileen Cannon set the start of the jury trial of the former president — the first ever to face criminal charges — for May 20, 2024.

Prosecutors had asked for the trial to begin in December of this year, while Trump’s defense attorneys had requested that it be held after the November 2024 election.

Cannon said she was setting the start of the trial for May to give both sides time to process more than 1.1 million pages of documentary evidence and confront the challenge of handling the classified documents at the heart of the case.

“No one disagrees that Defendants need adequate time to review and evaluate it on their own accord,” said Cannon, a Trump appointee.

The 77-year-old Trump is the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, and the trial will begin near the end of the primary campaign to select the party’s candidate.

Former US president Donald Trump speaks during a rally, July 7, 2023, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The trial will not stop the onetime reality television star from campaigning, but as a criminal defendant, he will be required to be present during the proceedings, which are expected to last weeks, if not months.

Trump pleaded not guilty last month to dozens of criminal counts for allegedly mishandling some of the government’s most sensitive secrets and scheming to prevent their return.

Trump is charged with 37 criminal counts over his refusal to hand over government records he took when he left the White House in 2021.

According to the indictment from special counsel Jack Smith, the former president took hundreds of classified documents in cardboard boxes to his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

Trump kept the files — which included records from the Pentagon, CIA and National Security Agency — unsecured at Mar-a-Lago, where large social events were regularly held, the indictment says.

The documents were stashed at various locations at the estate including a ballroom, a bathroom, Trump’s bedroom and a storage room, it said.

News media wait outside of the Alto Lee Adams Sr. U.S. Courthouse where their is a pretrial conference to discuss procedures for handling classified information in the case against former President Donald Trump, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Fort Pierce, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Trump aide also charged

Trump faces 31 counts of “willful retention of national defense information” relating to specific documents. A conviction on each count carries up to 10 years in prison.

Other charges include: conspiracy to obstruct justice, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; withholding a document or record, which also carries a potential 20-year sentence; and making false statements.

Waltine “Walt” Nauta, a 40-year-old US Navy veteran from Guam and a personal aide to Trump, is charged with six counts for helping Trump hide documents at Mar-a-Lago. He has also pleaded not guilty.

Nauta served as Trump’s military valet while he was president and continued working for him in a personal capacity after he left the White House.

Trump, who was impeached twice over allegations of misconduct while in office and was recently found liable for sexual abuse, has vowed to stay in the 2024 White House race regardless of the outcome of the documents case.

Trump faces other legal woes including a looming indictment from Smith for the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump also faces multiple felony counts in a New York fraud case involving alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

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