FORT PIERCE, Florida, July 18 (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers asked a U.S. federal judge on Tuesday not to treat the former president like any other criminal defendant on charges of mishandling classified documents.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 election, has pleaded not guilty to charges of illegally possessing national security documents after leaving office in 2021 and conspiring to thwart government efforts to retrieve them.
Trump attorney Christopher Kiss asked U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon, a Trump appointee to the bench, to consider the timing of the U.S. presidential campaign in deciding when to schedule a hearing.
Cannon did not set a trial date during the trial, which Trump did not attend, but cast doubt on prosecutors’ request to begin in December. He asked attorney Jay Pratt if there had ever been a case involving classified information that went to trial within six months. Pratt said he could not point to a specific case.
But Cannon also refused to accept Trump’s request for an indefinite delay, saying, “We have to set a schedule.”
The documents case is one of many that Trump faces during his time in the White House. Trump said on Tuesday that US special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the documents case, had sent a letter to Trump saying he was the target of a grand jury investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.
During Tuesday’s hearing in the documents case, Trump attorney Kiss said the case could see “the two leading contenders for the presidency of the United States square off in court” as the U.S. Department of Justice filed charges under Biden.
Attorney David Harbaugh called suggestions of political interference “false.” He noted that US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith as special counsel to keep the investigation out of politics.
He said career lawyers assigned to the case won’t work “if we think we’re taking on somebody’s political agenda.”
The charges against Trump include violations of the Espionage Act, which makes unauthorized possession of security information a crime. Trump, 77, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Cannon had initially planned to open the trial on August 14 – a date opposed by both the defense and the prosecution because they said they needed more time to prepare.
Cannon ruled in favor of Trump in a challenge he brought to a judicial inquiry months before criminal charges were filed after last year’s FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and the return of classified documents central to the criminal case. Cannon’s ruling was later overturned on appeal.
Report by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham, David Barrio, Nolene Walter and Daniel Wallis
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