Trump to tell judge that keeping classified records was legal

By Thomson Reuters Mar 14, 2024 | 5:16 AM

By Andrew Goudsward

FORT PIERCE, Florida (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers are set to ask a federal judge on Thursday to dismiss the federal criminal case that accuses him of illegally holding onto classified documents, arguing that he is allowed to keep the records after leaving the presidency.

The hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida is the latest legal gambit by Trump to try to derail the four criminal cases he faces while he campaigns as the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

In this case, Trump has pleaded not guilty to a 40-count indictment that accused him of retaining sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach after leaving office in January 2021 and obstructing U.S. government efforts to retrieve them.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to tell U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump, that he was authorized to keep the documents because he designated them as “personal” under a U.S. law on presidential records.

Prosecutors in the case brought by U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith have said documents related to issues including nuclear weapons capabilities and U.S. vulnerability to military attack could not be construed as personal records. Smith also has argued that Trump knew it was illegal to take the material with him when he left office.

Trump’s lawyers also are expected to argue that the central charge against him – illegally retaining information related to U.S. national defense – is improperly vague as it applies to a former president.

Thursday’s arguments will be focused on two of the seven legal motions Trump has filed to try to toss the charges. His other challenges include an argument for presidential immunity and claims that other U.S. officials who retained classified records, including Biden, were not charged.

Prosecutors have said Trump discussed with his lawyers the possibility of lying to government officials seeking to recover the documents, stored some records in boxes around a toilet, and moved others around Mar-a-Lago to prevent their discovery.

His two co-defendants, personal aide Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos de Oliveira, also have sought to dismiss the case.

The hearing may test Cannon’s receptivity to Trump’s legal claims in the criminal case. Cannon ruled in favor of Trump in an unusual challenge brought before charges were filed and was later rebuked by a federal appeals court.

The timing of a trial remains uncertain. Both Trump and prosecutors acknowledged the currently scheduled May start date will need to be postponed. Smith has sought a July start, while Trump suggested August even as he argued a trial should not happen before the election.

If Trump wins the election, he would have the power to end the two federal criminal cases, though not the two brought under state law.

Trump’s legal maneuvering has yielded some successes in other cases as well.

A federal case that accuses him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden is on hold as the Supreme Court considers his argument that he cannot be prosecuted for actions taken as president.

An election-subversion case in Georgia state court has been thrown into limbo as a judge considers whether to remove the lead prosecutor for having a romantic relationship with a subordinate.

Trump’s trial in the fourth case is set for March 25 on New York state charges involving hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. He has asked for that case to be delayed as well.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham and Andy Sullivan)