FORT PIERCE, Fla. - A federal judge signaled Tuesday that December may be too soon to begin former President Donald Trump’s landmark criminal trial concerning the mishandling of classified documents, but did not say whether she would agree to Trump’s request to put the trial off until after the 2024 election.
Judge Aileen Cannon said she would issue a written order "promptly" after the nearly two-hour hearing in federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, where Trump's lawyers pressed for an indefinite delay of a trial date.
The sparring over setting a trial date, a routine matter in criminal cases, underscores the unprecedented nature of prosecuting a former president who is also running to reclaim the White House in 2024.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and slammed the prosecution as an attempt to hurt his campaign.
Trump's lawyers say the Republican can't get a fair trial ahead of the election and insist they need more time to review evidence and prepare for what they describe as a complex case.
The judge repeatedly pressed Trump’s lawyers to set some dates and a more concrete timetable, but acknowledged she understood they needed more time to review documents and footage.
"We need to set a timetable," Cannon said. "Some deadlines can be established now."
She also questioned prosecutors on whether there were other similar cases involving classified documents tried in such a short time frame.
Special counsel Jack Smith's team, which is pushing for the trial to begin in December, told the judge the case is not complex and there's no need for a lengthy delay. They rejected insinuations by the defense that Trump was charged because he's running for president. Prosecutor David Harbach said there was "no political influence."
"No one in our team is a political appointee," he said, noting that they are all career prosecutors.
It was the first time arguments were held in front of Cannon, who has been under increased scrutiny since a court ruling last year that critics said was unduly favorable to Trump. Trump’s co-defendant, Walt Nauta, attended the hearing, but Trump did not. He traveled Tuesday to Iowa, where he was taping a town hall with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
Trump and Nauta pleaded not guilty before a federal judge in Miami to a 38-count indictment that accuses them of conspiring to hide classified documents from Justice Department investigators that were taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago at the end of Trump’s time in office in January 2021.
The court date unfolded hours after Trump disclosed that he had received a target letter from the Justice Department in a separate investigation into efforts by him and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Such letters often precede an indictment.
Harbach told the judge that Trump’s legal team has repeatedly suggested he should be treated differently because he’s running for president.
"He should be treated like anybody else," Harbach said. "He is not different than any other busy, important person."
But Todd Blanche, one of Trump’s lawyers, pushed back against the idea that this case be treated like any other. Trump's team said it believes the circumstances to ensure a fair trial would improve after the election.
"It is intellectually dishonest to say this case is like any other case," Blanche said. "It is not."
Chris Kise, a Trump lawyer, asked the judge to consider the amount of attention the case was receiving and whether finding impartial jurors would be possible before an election. But Cannon said she wanted to first focus on discovery and set a concrete "road map" for the case.
Kise suggested meeting again in November to discuss scheduling the trial. As the hearing was about to end, Kise said a trial date of mid-November 2024 would be preferred.
Cannon also presided over a lawsuit that the Trump team filed last year over the August 2022 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. Cannon drew criticism and second-guessing from legal experts for granting Trump's request for a special master to conduct an independent review of the classified documents removed by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago.
A three-judge federal appeals court later overruled that order and said she had lacked the authority for such a ruling.
Tucker reported from Washington and Richer reported from Boston.