US prosecutors spar with judge over order in Trump classified document case

United States prosecutors involved in the criminal indictment of Donald Trump in Florida have questioned a judge’s order that they indicate risks tipping the case in the former US president’s favour.

Their 24-page filing was issued late on Tuesday, as part of an ongoing case looking into Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office.

In the filing, Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team of prosecutors rebuked Judge Aileen Cannon for ordering that instructions be provided to an eventual jury suggesting that Trump could have kept the classified documents as part of his “personal” record-keeping.

The judge’s order appeared to be a hat tip to the defence’s argument that the Presidential Records Act (PRA) entitled Trump to keep the sensitive government documents, something Smith and his team have disputed.

“That legal premise is wrong,” Smith and his colleagues wrote, adding that any jury instruction to that effect would “distort the trial”.

The court filing was an unusual display of public discord between the prosecutors and the judge, who Trump nominated to the bench.

Questions over judge

Judge Cannon, who serves on the federal court in the Southern District of Florida, has previously faced scrutiny over decisions she has made in the long-running classified document case.

In September 2022, for instance, she granted the Trump legal team’s request to have a “special master” appointed to filter through the classified documents retrieved from the former president’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Legal experts decried the move as unprecedented, and it delayed the US Department of Justice from having full access to the documents as part of its investigation. An appeals court ultimately ended the special master’s review.

No trial date has been set in the classified documents case. It was the first federal criminal indictment Trump faced as a result of Smith’s investigations.

“Whatever the Court decides, it must resolve these crucial threshold legal questions promptly,” Smith and his colleagues wrote. “The failure to do so would improperly jeopardize the Government’s right to a fair trial.”

Special Counsel Smith, who was appointed by the US Justice Department that November, has accused Trump of obstructing that subpoena and other efforts to recuperate the documents, which contained national security secrets.

The government ultimately recovered more than 300 classified documents from the Mar-a-Lago resort, where dozens of public events had taken place.

Trump faces 40 felony charges in relation to the classified documents case. His aid Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira were also charged.

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