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Trump Asks for August Trial Date in Classified Documents Case

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Trump Asks for August Trial Date in Classified Documents Case

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For the past eight months, former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers have used nearly every means at their disposal to delay his federal trial on charges of mishandling classified documents until after the election in November.

But in court papers filed on Thursday evening, the lawyers made an abrupt turnabout. In a filing to the judge overseeing the case, they repeated their complaints that Mr. Trump could not be tried fairly until the election was concluded, but then proposed a new date for the trial of Aug. 12, almost three months before Election Day and just weeks after the Republican convention to choose a party nominee.

It was not immediately clear what led to the sudden change of heart — or to the selection of Aug. 12 — especially given that the lawyers spent much of their filing to the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, claiming that the law, the Constitution and the Justice Department’s own policy manual frowned on the idea of taking “the presumptive Republican nominee” to trial at the height of his campaign for the White House.

One possibility was that the lawyers, by proposing to spend much of late summer and early fall in court on the classified documents case, were seeking to prevent the former president’s other federal trial — on charges of plotting to subvert the 2020 election — from being held before voters make their choice.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, also sent a letter on Thursday evening to Judge Cannon proposing a new date for the trial: July 8. That was in keeping with Mr. Smith’s long-held position of trying to put the documents case in front of a jury before November.

Judge Cannon had solicited the proposed new dates on the eve of a hearing she was set to hold on Friday in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., to reset the trial clock for the case. She has already indicated that she intends to push back the current start date of May 20, but it remains to be seen how much of a delay she will impose.

It has been no easy task finding time for all four of Mr. Trump’s criminal trials both in relation to each other and against his increasingly busy schedule as a presidential candidate. And Mr. Trump’s persistent strategy of seeking to delay the proceedings for as long as possible has already had some measurable success.

On Wednesday, for instance, the Supreme Court made a decision that increased the likelihood that the election interference case in Washington — which was once set to be first of the cases to be tried — would likely not face a jury until September at the earliest.

The justices agreed to hear the former president’s claims to be immune from prosecution to the charges in the case, setting arguments for the end of April and keeping all of the proceedings in trial court frozen as it worked.

At this point, only one of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases has a solid trial date in 2024: the one in Manhattan, in which he stands accused of arranging hush money for the porn star Stormy Daniels in an effort to avert a scandal on the eve of the 2016 election.

His fourth criminal case, in which he stands accused of tampering with the election results in Georgia, has not even been set for trial yet and is unlikely to start before the election. And it is currently in turmoil as a judge in Fulton County considers whether to disqualify Fani T. Willis, the district attorney who filed the indictment, over allegations of financial misconduct surrounding an affair she had with one of her deputies.

While Mr. Trump would surely prefer to avoid going to trial in both of his federal cases before Election Day, if he had to pick one, it could be to his benefit to choose the classified documents case.

That proceeding would be heard in a part of Florida with a jury pool with far more Trump supporters than in heavily Democratic Washington, where the federal election case will be tried. Judge Cannon has also shown herself more willing to issue rulings favorable to Mr. Trump than has her counterpart in Washington, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan.

And while the evidence in the classified documents trial could prove politically damaging during the height of Mr. Trump’s campaign, it could be even more devastating if a parade of witnesses testified in a courthouse in the capital about his efforts to subvert the last election even as he was trying to win the current one.

As Mr. Trump went through the ordeal of being indicted four times last year, he and his legal team cycled through disbelief, anger and a recognition that he would have to spend much of this year facing juries as he campaigned to return to the White House.

But even as Mr. Trump made the charges against him a rallying cry for his supporters and sought to hijack courtrooms for his political purposes, his lawyers sought ways to delay the trials by using often unusual pretrial motions to drive the proceedings into legal cul-de-sacs.

It was not clear even to them that the strategy would work, but they nonetheless threw all kinds of arguments at judges intended to push some or all of the trials past Election Day, when a victory by Mr. Trump would give him ways to further postpone judgment or wipe away the charges entirely.

The substantial success they have had came into clearer focus after the Supreme Court decided to take up one of his long-shot legal arguments: that presidents are all but immune from prosecution for actions they take in office.

The lawyers representing Mr. Trump in the classified documents case are also using an immunity defense, and made a nod to the decision by the justices to consider the issue in their filing to Judge Cannon on Thursday.

“Yesterday’s order by the Supreme Court agreeing to review the D.C. Circuit’s erroneous decision in United States v. Trump was an important step toward the protection of the U.S. Constitution and fair system of justice that President Trump seeks in this district and elsewhere,” they wrote. “The justices’ anticipated ruling will provide guidance as your honor evaluates President Trump’s motion to dismiss the case.”

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