Judge delays start of Trump classified documents trial

Donald Trump's trial in Florida on charges of illegally keeping classified documents after leaving office has been indefinitely postponed, a judge decided, greatly reducing the odds he will face a jury in either of the two federal criminal cases against him before the US election.

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency, previously had been scheduled to go to trial on May 20 in the documents case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, but the prosecution and defence had both acknowledged that date would need to be delayed.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020, said on Tuesday the trial would no longer begin on May 20 but did not set a new date. Cannon scheduled pre-trial hearings to run through July 22.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 federal counts accusing him of retaining sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing US government efforts to retrieve them.

Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated him four years ago.

Smith faces significant obstacles to getting either federal case against Trump to trial before the election on November 5. Cannon is yet to rule on several legal issues crucial to the documents case and has signalled support for Trump's defence on some matters.

In a separate case brought by Smith involving Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, the US Supreme Court seems poised to recognise that former presidents have at least some immunity from prosecution over official actions.

That outcome mostly likely would further delay Trump's election-related case as lower courts determine which allegations against him are covered by that legal shield.

Trump's lawyers had said a trial in the documents case should not start until after the election, but also suggested an August 12 date in response to an order from Cannon to propose a timeline for the case. Smith proposed a July start date.

Trump's lawyers have worked to delay all four criminal cases he faces.

"We're in this absolutely unprecedented situation where a defendant is potentially going to have the power to shut down his own prosecution," said George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason, an expert in white-collar criminal cases. "That's an argument for getting the case to trial before the election."

Trump has been on trial in New York state court since April 15 on charges he unlawfully sought to conceal hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. He has also been charged in state court in Georgia over his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump has sought to portray all the legal cases against him as politically motivated.

The charges in the Florida case include violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalises the unauthorised possession of national defence information, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators.