U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon is about to shape the course of the 2024 presidential election — and perhaps the fate of the country. On Tuesday, she’ll hear from the lawyers hoping to influence her as she decides how and when former President Donald Trump will stand trial on charges that he amassed classified national security secrets at his private home.
The hearing, set to take place at Cannon’s home courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., is the first one she’s held in the case that began when federal prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump last month. Earlier court sessions were held in Miami by federal magistrate judges.
Tuesday’s session was originally billed as the first chance for the attorneys to discuss how they intend to handle the voluminous classified material expected to be evidence in the case. But Cannon recently signaled she will also address the broader trial schedule — one that pits Trump’s demand for a delay until after the 2024 presidential contest against the Justice Department’s bid for a relatively expedited trial late this year.
Here are six key questions about the hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. EDT.
How will Cannon handle the campaign calendar?
This is the first vital question for a judge who is already under enormous scrutiny. Trump says it’s impossible to have a fair trial before the November 2024 election. The Justice Department says Trump’s status as a political candidate should have no influence on the trial calendar. Rather, they say the public interest would be served by a speedy trial that ends before the calendar year is out.
Cannon — a Trump appointee — can’t exactly split the difference, since any trial that goes into 2024 will necessarily conflict with crucial dates on the presidential campaign calendar — from primary contests to debates. So she’ll have to choose: A schedule that aligns more closely with DOJ’s expedited process or one that could carry on past the campaign cycle and potentially into a second Trump presidency.
It’s more than just a question of timing or convenience, since postponing the trial until after the election could allow Trump — if he wins a second term — to have the case dropped altogether or pardon himself before he might face jail time.
How will Cannon handle Trump’s other legal obligations?
Trump’s political calendar isn’t the only obstacle to the trial schedule. He’s also the subject of an increasingly crowded legal calendar that may obligate him to appear in courtrooms in other states for much of the next year.
Already, his business empire is expected to face trial in New York in October for alleged fraud; in January, Trump will be the subject of a second civil trial, when another of writer E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuits goes before jurors; and in March, Trump is due to stand trial on criminal charges in Manhattan for allegedly falsifying business records to hide hush money payments to a porn actress who claims she had an extramarital affair with him.
There may be more: Smith is in the final phases of a separate grand jury investigation into Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election, and Atlanta-area district attorney Fani Willis is contemplating charges against Trump for his efforts to manipulate Georgia’s election results as well.
Trump is unlikely to be required to be on hand throughout the civil trials, but he could have to testify. In the criminal cases, the conflict would be most acute.
Federal judges have a lot of discretion to override state proceedings if they see fit, but they rarely do so. Tuesday’s hearing may provide the first indication of whether Cannon seems inclined to defer to those other pending cases.
Will Trump or his codefendant show up?
When Cannon scheduled Tuesday’s hearing about classified trial procedures, she emphasized that neither Trump nor his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, were required to appear personally — only their lawyers needed to attend the session. (Nauta is Trump’s longtime personal aide who is accused of helping him conceal boxes of classified documents and then lying to federal investigators.) Everyone involved has proceeded as though the defendants weren’t planning to show.
But with Cannon intent on expanding the ambit of the hearing to discuss trial scheduling matters, the attendance of the defendants becomes a more significant issue.
Criminal defendants have the right to be present for every aspect of a process that could result in the loss of their liberty. And when they opt out of any proceedings, judges typically ask for a signed “waiver” or oral confirmation from the defendants themselves. No such public waiver has occurred for a hearing about the trial schedule.
Tuesday’s hearing would also be the first chance for either defendant to come face to face with Cannon, whose actions thus far in the criminal case have been limited to signed orders and docket entries.
Will Smith’s team tip its hand about the other federal Trump investigation?
As judges plan to take a case to trial, they often ask prosecutors whether the charges in the case are final or whether there’s the possibility of a superseding indictment that adds new charges or defendants. Any hints from Smith’s team on that front could be quite newsworthy.
Smith’s prosecutors are unlikely to divulge much about their other investigation, which includes scrutiny of the so-called fake electors plan on Jan. 6 and the finances of pro-Trump groups. But any move to charge Trump in that probe could further scramble the best laid plans for the classified-documents case, so the judge might seek some assurances that isn’t likely to happen.
Where will the trial be held?
All signs point toward Trump’s trial being held at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, a city of fewer than 50,000 residents on the east coast of Florida. But Cannon doesn’t appear to have explicitly declared that’s where it will be. Holding the trial there could minimize disruption at the other main federal courthouses in South Florida. It also would likely mean a jury drawn from five relatively pro-Trump counties.
Both sides may air their preferences and concerns on that front Tuesday, and Cannon could weigh in on the potential logistical challenges posed by a sensational trial at the normally sleepy federal courthouse in the St. Lucie County seat on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
What motions do both sides plan?
As she zeroes in on a schedule, Cannon could ask both sides what sorts of motions they’re planning to bring in the case. Defense lawyers are expected to challenge the specific charges in the case as well as the legality of Smith’s appointment, arguing that Attorney General Merrick Garland effectively left the special counsel unsupervised, in violation of the Constitution’s requirement that executive branch actions be governed by Senate-confirmed officials.
Prosecutors usually file more limited motions, but they might seek to limit mentions of politics during the case. It will also be interesting to hear whether Smith wants to impose any limits on Trump’s ability to comment publicly on the case or the prosecutors.
“Has Deranged Jack Smith, the crazy, Trump hating Special Prosecutor, been seen in the area of the COCAINE?” Trump commented earlier this month on Truth Social, referencing a bag of drugs found at the White House. ”He looks like a crackhead to me!”
There could also be questions from prosecutors about the role of Trump allies in arranging legal representation for Nauta.