Donald Trump will stand trial on May 20, 2024 — after most presidential primaries have elapsed — on charges that he hoarded military secrets at his Mar-a-Lago estate, a federal judge ordered Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon appeared to split the difference between prosecutors’ request for a December 2023 trial date and Trump’s request to postpone the trial until after the November 2024 election.
Trump, who is mounting a bid to return to the White House, already faces a criminal trial set for March in New York on unrelated state charges of falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 presidential election.
The former president also faces the prospect of additional criminal charges from special counsel Jack Smith in a separate investigation of interference with the 2020 presidential election and a potential indictment in Georgia in connection with a local district attorney’s probe there of alleged vote tampering in that state.
The new ruling from Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, largely sidesteps the issue of how the preparations for the trial in the federal case she is overseeing will interface with the demands of a presidential election campaign.
Cannon noted that Trump’s lawyers argued that the case would face “insurmountable prejudice in jury selection stemming from publicity about the 2024 Presidential Election,” but she found it “unnecessary” to address that issue “at this juncture.”
The judge’s order Friday also formally sets the trial to take place in Fort Pierce, Fla., which typically draws jurors from five counties along or near the state’s Treasure Coast. Those counties were more pro-Trump in the 2020 presidential election than was Palm Beach County, where federal prosecutors filed the criminal case. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and social club is located in Palm Beach County and the crimes — which include storing highly classified documents and obstructing the government’s efforts to retrieve them — were allegedly committed there.
While Cannon earned a reputation as being deferential to Trump due to her rulings in a civil case challenging the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago last year, her early rulings in the criminal case appear designed to chart a middle course between Trump and the government. She has so far avoided tipping her hand on most of the explosive legal issues likely to arise during the pretrial proceedings.
Prosecutors from Smith’s office had argued that the case should not be considered “complex” under federal law or put on a protracted timeline, but Cannon rejected that view, writing that she is “unaware of any searchable case in which a court has refused a complex designation under comparable circumstances.”
Trump’s attorneys had urged Cannon not to set any trial date at this point, and they said that any trial during the election season was unwise and impractical.
Cannon indicated Friday that she anticipates further argument and briefing on the process for selecting a jury in the case.
The schedule the judge set includes dozens of interim dates for filings and other pretrial proceedings, including special procedures for handling the volume of classified information certain to feature in the case. A footnote in Cannon’s order says the lawyers’ initial review of the classified materials will take place at a temporary site, with a permanent one to be established later.
The date prosecutors had proposed to begin Trump’s trial, Dec. 11, 2023, was selected by Cannon instead as the date for a potentially pivotal hearing on motions Trump’s defense is expected to file to try to knock out the charges and perhaps to challenge Smith’s appointment as invalid under the Constitution.
Charged along with Trump in the case is a personal aide who worked with him both at the White House and in Florida, Walt Nauta. In addition to the 31 charges against Trump for allegedly willfully retaining national defense information, Nauta and Trump each face six additional felony charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI.