One Of Two Motions To Dismiss Trump Documents Case Denied By Judge

A federal judge in Fort Pierce, Florida, denied one of former President Donald Trump’s motions to dismiss the case on his handling of classified documents. This decision came shortly after Trump and his legal team presented their arguments in court.

Judge Aileen Cannon has denied the motion, which claimed that the Espionage Act statute, under which Trump was charged, was unconstitutionally vague. In a brief ruling, she indicated that this matter would be better addressed during the trial. She also acknowledged the possibility of raising concerns related to the Espionage Act in connection with the jury instructions at the conclusion of the trial.

In her ruling, she acknowledged that the motion presented valid arguments that deserved careful consideration. However, she concluded that the resolution relied too heavily on contested instructional questions regarding the constantly evolving definitions of statutory terms and phrases. Additionally, there were unresolved factual issues raised in the motion.

In his filing, Trump argues that there are numerous unresolved legal questions surrounding the Espionage Act, the law he has been accused of violating. His lawyers assert that these uncertainties render the law unconstitutional due to its lack of clarity.

Smith dismissed this claim, stating in court documents, “Trump’s argument about vagueness lacks merit. The charges against Trump involve unauthorized possession and intentional retention of national defense information. The prohibitions outlined in the statute are unambiguous.”

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During the hearing on Thursday, Cannon expressed her concern about the motion regarding the Espionage Act, highlighting that it may be premature. She emphasized that deeming a statute as unconstitutionally vague is an exceptional measure.

“Why are we discussing this now, considering the disputed facts?” she inquired. She highlighted that the superseding indictment does not assert that Trump’s documents were personal. Trump is currently asserting that he had designated them as personal records before his departure from office.

Cannon also had a keen interest in determining the exact timeline when Trump’s alleged lawful retention of the documents came to an end. She inquired whether this occurred on January 20, 2021, the day he left office. In response, she clarified that the indictment posits a theory wherein Trump’s possession of the documents was authorized during his presidency, but became unauthorized as soon as his tenure concluded. Trump’s attorney was then questioned about the precise moment when this possession transitioned into unauthorized territory.

According to Trump lawyer Emil Bove, the charges under Statute 793 of the Espionage Act should be dismissed. This is because the government cannot prove that Trump lacked authorization. Bove argues that Trump’s act of removing the records itself indicated that he considered them to be personal records.

During the court proceedings, there was a dispute between Trump’s lawyers and the prosecutors from the special counsel’s office regarding the interpretation of the term “unauthorized” and its application. Judge Cannon appeared to support the prosecution’s usage of dictionary definitions of the term in their legal motions. To gain further clarity, she inquired of Bove, “In the event that I reject your motion, how would you propose presenting jury instructions to define ‘unauthorized’?”

In Cannon’s courtroom, Trump’s team and prosecutors from Smith’s office found themselves facing each other for the second time in as many weeks.

During Thursday’s hearing, Cannon also entertained arguments regarding another motion to dismiss, this time filed by Trump. The motion claimed that the former president is protected from prosecution by a federal recordkeeping law.

Presidential Records Act

In one of several motions last month, Trump argued that the case should be dismissed. He claimed that as the president, he had the authority to declare any document as personal. According to his attorneys, the Presidential Records Act prevented any judicial review over his recordkeeping.

According to Trump’s team, the documents in question were packed, transported, and delivered to Mar-A-Lago while President Trump was still in office. They believe that past precedent should have prevented prosecutors from initiating a criminal investigation, which would also invalidate the obstruction charges he is currently facing.

According to the special counsel, the argument made by Cannon is deemed “incorrect”. In his own filing, the special counsel asserts that the government records that Trump is alleged to have unlawfully retained are undoubtedly presidential in nature, rather than personal. As a result, these records rightfully belong to the government.

Prosecutors stated that after his departure from office, Donald Trump was not allowed to possess any classified records, including those at unsecured locations like Mar-a-Lago, as alleged in the Superseding Indictment.

According to Bratt, Trump was fully aware that taking the documents was illegal, even if he didn’t know the specific law he was violating. Bratt emphasized that there are clear guidelines in existing authorities that define the permissible and prohibited actions.

Judge Cannon firmly stated that allowing unreviewable personal designations would essentially render the Presidential Records Act meaningless.

“The indictment charges do not pertain to personal records, unequivocally,” argued prosecutor David Harbach. According to him, Trump was fully aware when he acquired the documents and never classified them as personal. He dismissed Trump’s assertion that the materials, being highly classified and sensitive, automatically become personal and that he had authorization to keep them, thereby requesting the dismissal of the indictment. Additionally, Harbach highlighted that Trump’s legal team has not contested the facts presented in the indictment.

According to Harbach, Congress should not grant unlimited authority to the executive branch when it comes to designating records, despite the deference provided by the Presidential Records Act (PRA). He argues that it would be unreasonable to undermine the PRA.

The special counsel has brought charges against Trump for unlawfully retaining classified government records. According to allegations, he took these documents from the White House during the presidential transition. Additionally, the former president and two aides have been accused of obstructing investigations through a coordinated scheme. All three individuals have entered pleas of not guilty and vehemently denied any wrongdoing. It is important to note that one of the aides, Walt Nauta, was present in court on Thursday.

Prosecutors have alleged that Trump, as the former president, claimed he had the right to retain the records due to his classification authority within the federal government. However, they assert that various entities within the government, including archivists and investigators, made extensive efforts for a year to recover the missing documents.

In January 2022, Trump returned 15 boxes of documents, some of which contained papers marked as classified. Investigators later obtained a subpoena for records, which resulted in the discovery of a few additional documents. Subsequently, the FBI conducted a search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, with a court-authorized search warrant. This search revealed numerous sensitive records that had been stored in unsecured locations.

According to Trump’s lawyers, the Special Counsel’s Office cannot overlook the significance of the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which clearly grants discretion and authority to President Trump during his first term.

Trump and the other defendants in the documents case have requested hearings for the motions to dismiss that were filed last month. These include claims of vindictive prosecution and presidential immunity. Smith, on the other hand, has opposed all of these motions, including the question of presidential immunity. The Supreme Court will be considering this matter next month in a separate case related to Smith’s charges against Trump in Washington, D.C. in connection with the 2020 election.

The high court’s ruling is awaited before proceeding with the criminal trial.

According to prosecutors, Trump’s team is merely attempting to postpone the trial in Florida, and they have put forth the argument that the criminal proceedings should commence in July. On March 1, Judge Cannon conducted a hearing regarding the trial schedule, but she has not made a ruling as of yet. The defense team contends that conducting a fair trial prior to the 2024 presidential election would be impossible. However, they have proposed an August or September date, if the judge deems it necessary to proceed with the trial.

On Thursday, there was a hearing held following the dismissal of three charges against Trump by a county judge in Georgia. These charges were part of the 2020 election interference case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. It’s important to note that Trump still has other counts to face in this case, and he has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Earlier this week, Cannon approved Trump’s request for a 10-day extension to submit additional paperwork related to other motions to dismiss the case.

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