Trump pushes skeptical judge to dismiss Mar-a-Lago classified documents case

A Florida federal judge sounded skeptical about former President Donald Trump’s legal push to dismiss his Mar-a-Lago classified documents case.

With Trump sitting in the court room, his defense team asked District Court Judge Aileen Cannon to toss the case on the grounds that the Presidential Records Act gives Trump the power to take whatever documents he wanted when he left the White House.

Trump separately claims the Espionage Act, under which he faces several charges, is unconstitutionally vague.

“It’s difficult to see how this gets you to the dismissal of an indictment,” Cannon told one of Trump’s lawyers.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team says the files Trump is charged with possessing are presidential records, not personal ones, and that the law does not apply to classified and top-secret documents like those Trump took with him to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

The Presidential Records Act “does not exempt Trump from the criminal law, entitle him to unilaterally declare highly classified presidential records to be personal records, or shield him from criminal investigations — let alone allow him to obstruct a federal investigation with impunity,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week.

Cannon also sounded unlikely to strike down the Espionage Act, noting that would be “unusual” move.

Cannon said she would rule “promptly” on the motions. She still has a stack of pre-trial proceedings to deal with before the case could go to trial.

Trump has repeatedly invoked the Presidential Records Act since the FBI’s explosive 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago, where agents found hundreds of documents he stashed there in defiance of subpoenas to get them back.

The post-Watergate reform law requires presidents upon leaving office to transfer their presidential records to the U.S. government. It permits them to retain only some diaries and notes that are purely private and not prepared for government business.

Trump’s lawyers have said that he designated all the records he took with him to Mar-a-Lago as personal records, even though they included top-secret information and documents related to nuclear programs and the military capabilities of the U.S. and foreign adversaries.

Cannon has suggested in the past that she sees Trump’s status as a former president sets him apart from others who have held onto classified records, even though other courts have shot down that idea as absurd.

“There was never a situation remotely similar to this one,” said Jay Bratt, a top prosecutor on Smith’s team.

The judge is still mulling a possible trial date in the Trump case. She has repeatedly slow-walked the case, indulging Trump’s demands for delay that he hopes will push the case back to after the fall presidential election.

The hearing played out as another judge in Atlanta was poised to determine whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis may continue to prosecute Trump and several acolytes on racketeering charges tied to his effort to overturn the 2020 election.

Judge Scott McAfee says he plans to rule by the end of the week on whether Willis should be disqualified for financial slip-ups related to an affair with a subordinate.

In Manhattan, District Attorney Alvin Bragg agreed to a monthlong delay in Trump’s case tied to hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels after a delay in handing over documents to the defense.