April 12, 2024

Special counsel pushes back on Judge Cannon in classified documents case, claiming “no” Trump White House official has supported the former president’s claims of privatization of documents

Washington – Special Counsel Jack Smith has urged a federal judge to keep a presidential record-keeping law out of the instructions that would be provided to the jury in court. Secret documents case against former President Donald Trump, according to court documents filed Tuesday by Smith’s team. Prosecutors warned that including the law in the briefs risked jeopardizing the proceedings, and indicated they would appeal the judge’s decision if it ruled against them.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, which is overseeing the case in Florida, asked Smith and Trump’s legal teams to submit jury instructions based on two hypothetical scenarios: In one scenario, the president has the authority under the Presidential Records Act (PRA) to release all documents categorize as personal. In this scenario, Cannon wrote that “neither a court nor a jury” would have the ability to review the decision, a finding that could nullify much of the special counsel’s case against Trump.

In the other case, the jury could examine a file kept by a former president and conclude that it was “personal or presidential” under the PRA. In this scenario, it is possible that jurors may conclude that some official documents have been misused.

Federal prosecutors rejected both proposals, writing Tuesday that the PRA — a 1978 law that governs the maintenance of White House documents produced during each presidency — “should play no role at all during the trial,” arguing that Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents occurred after his presidency ended.

Trump and Smith filed separate motions for jury instructions in the case on Tuesday, although a trial date has yet to be set.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that both of Cannon’s hypothetical scenarios are “based on an unstated and fundamentally flawed legal premise.” Any jury instructions that included the PRA risked being ‘distorted'[ing] the process,” they said.

Instead, the special counsel suggested that jurors should consider just three elements of the case that amount to Trump deliberately withholding national defense information without federal government approval.

Smith’s team requested that if the judge chooses to include language about the PRA, she give them ample time to appeal to higher courts before the hearing.

The former president’s legal team took the opposite view, writing that Cannon had “correctly stated the law” when she proposed the jury instruction that would have granted Trump much broader power under the PRA.

“If this case were presented to a jury – which it should not be – the jury would be forced to resolve factual issues relating not only to PRA categorizations, but also to the purported classification status of documents,” the defense team argued of Trump in their file.

In their own proposed jury instructions, Trump’s legal team suggested that Cannon tell jurors that Trump was authorized to access the classified documents during his presidency and that certain precedents allow former presidents to access certain documents.

The special counsel charged Trump in a 40-count indictment that includes 32 alleged violations of a national security law that makes it illegal to mishandle national defense information. The former president is also accused of engaging in an obstruction scheme as part of an alleged effort to thwart federal investigators as they probed his retention of documents with classified marks. The FBI ultimately recovered more than 300 sensitive government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, which prosecutors accused him of illegally keeping.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has denied any wrongdoing.

The special counsel’s filing late Tuesday argued that the issue of presidential versus private information under the PRA is not a question for a jury because it does not apply to Trump’s alleged conduct. Instead, prosecutors said this was a legal issue that should be left to the judge.

Trump’s legal team has filed a number of motions to dismiss the case against him, including one on the grounds that the PRA granted Trump “non-reviewable discretion” over classified documents.

“President Trump was still the President of the United States when, for example, many of the documents in question were packaged (presumably by the GSA), transported, and delivered to Mar-A-Lago,” they wrote in a February court filing. .

Attorneys for the former president also argued that the PRA “precludes judicial review of a president’s administration,” claiming the court has no jurisdiction in the case, language that was reflected in Cannon’s order seeking input on the proposed jury instructions.

However, Smith’s team has pushed back on responding to court filings, writing that the more than 300 documents with secret markings recovered from Trump are “indisputably presidential and not personal.”

“Trump was not authorized to possess classified documents at all,” prosecutors said.

The federal investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents followed a months-long effort by federal officials to gather what they say are missing documents. Investigators ultimately executed a search warrant at his Florida residence and club, Mar-a-Lago, in August 2022 after the former president reportedly failed to fully respond to a grand jury subpoena.

In Tuesday’s filing, Smith’s team again pushed back, claiming that Trump’s use of the PRA — namely the claim that he had the power to declare certain government documents as personal in nature — was “invented” as a “fictitious” defense for his alleged behavior. only after the federal investigation was underway. The special counsel said neither communications with his defense team during the investigation nor witness statements support Trump’s claims.

Prosecutors revealed that the special counsel’s office interviewed individuals close to the former president during the grand jury investigation, including his chiefs of staff and top White House officials.

“No one heard Trump say that he was marking documents as personal or that he believed, at the time he caused the transfer of boxes to Mar-a-Lago, that removing documents would amount to marking them as personal under the law. PRA,” the Special Prosecutor said. “On the contrary, every witness who was asked this question had never heard anything like it.”

In response to Cannon’s order, however, Trump’s lawyers reiterated their claim that the former president was protected from prosecution under the PRA.

“There is no basis for the Special Counsel’s Office, this Court, or a jury to question President Trump’s document-specific PRA categorizations.”

Cannon has yet to rule on Trump’s proposals to dismiss the charges, and the former president’s legal team called on her again on Tuesday to rule in his favor. Two aides to the former president, Walt Nauta and Carlos de Oliveira, are also charged in the case and have filed their own motions, which also remain unresolved. Nauta and de Oliveira pleaded not guilty to charges that they worked with the former president to obstruct the federal investigation.

The judge has not yet set a trial date in the case — originally scheduled for late May — and has not issued an order in connection with a request by Smith to reconsider a ruling related to protected witness names. On March 1, she held a hearing on these two issues.

Trump initially argued that a trial would not happen before the fall elections, but conceded that August could be feasible if the judge decided to proceed. The special counsel pushed for the trial to begin in July, a proposal less likely to be adopted as Cannon’s file still contains several unresolved motions.

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