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Mar-a-Lago trial date up in air indefinitely, judge signals

It already seemed that the May 20 trial date set last July in the Mar-a-Lago case was written in pencil and all but guaranteed to be erased, but a late Monday order staying a deadline that the special counsel called “crucial” for “getting the case to trial” against Donald Trump was yet another blow to the prosecution.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon issued a brief order granted Trump a temporary extension, without getting into details yet about how long the delay will be, on deadlines for the defense reveal whether it intends to use classified materials obtained through discovery “in any manner in connection with any trial or pretrial proceeding” and to disclose expert witnesses. The notice deadline is important because the defense would be “forbidden” from using classified info at trial if it does not “provide a sufficiently detailed” account of its plans.

The DOJ’s Justice Manual calls the CIPA § 5(a) Notice the “linchpin” of the Classified Information Procedures Act, a statute designed to protect classified information over the course of a criminal proceeding, such as the Espionage Act case against Trump.

While the defense had argued in April that the May 9 deadline should be pushed back because it was a “virtually impossible task” for Trump attorneys to fight the Manhattan hush-money trial and file the notice at the same time, special counsel Jack Smith told the judge that the defense “must stop” pushing “reflexively” for “open-ended” delay, especially when considering that Trump lawyers had months to meet the deadlines that are “crucial” for “getting the case to trial.”

More recently, the defense pushed back by saying that Smith and his prosecutors have “incessantly sought deadlines” at breakneck speed.

More Law&Crime coverage: Jack Smith urges Mar-a-Lago judge not to make government cave to Trump’s discovery demands, ‘corrects’ defense theories one by one

Earlier on Monday, however, the Trump team said that deadlines should be adjourned because the Special Counsel’s Office “failed to maintain the integrity of the contents of certain boxes obtained at Mar-a-Lago.” The defense pointed to the Special Counsel’s Office own admissions to Cannon.

“[T]here are some boxes where the order of items within that box is not the same as in the associated scans,” the special counsel said, before explaining in a footnote: “The Government acknowledges that this is inconsistent with what Government counsel previously understood and represented to the court” on whether the boxes at issue were “in their original, intact form as seized.” The special counsel had told Cannon that the boxes “are, with one exception; and that is that the classified documents have been removed and placeholders have been put in the documents.”

For the defense, this admission was fatal to Smith’s push to keep the deadlines in place.

“During the review of discovery and preparation of pretrial motions, President Trump’s counsel had relied on the scans and believed that the location of allegedly classified documents within the boxes was exculpatory,” the defense said. “Indeed, it was our understanding that most, and potentially all, of the charged documents were buried within the boxes and located next to other items that provided favorable context regarding, inter alia, when the document was placed in a box. It never occurred to us, until last Friday, that the prosecution team could not be trusted to perform the basic task of maintaining the integrity of such evidence despite the expansive resources at their disposal.”

Thereafter, the judge issued a temporary stay without immediately getting into specifics:

PAPERLESS ORDER temporarily staying CIPA § 5 and Rule 16 Expert Disclosure Deadlines 439. Order setting second set of pretrial deadlines/hearings to follow. Signed by Judge Aileen M. Cannon on 5/6/2024. (jf01) (Entered: 05/06/2024)