A Trump Judge Under Scrutiny newsbhunt


When Judge Aileen Cannon was handed the job last spring of overseeing Donald Trump’s prosecution on charges of mishandling classified documents, she was already under fire.

Many legal analysts as well as Trump critics assailed her for having issued a ruling in an early part of the inquiry that was favorable to him but so legally questionable that an appeals court chided her in overturning it.

Now Judge Cannon is facing a series of decisions that will further test her legal acumen and give an indication of how she views the case and its famous main defendant.

The biggest decision in front of the judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump in his waning days in office, is when she will hold the trial. It is currently set to start on May 20, but will almost certainly be delayed.

How much of a delay she decides on — and whether she postpones the trial until after the election — will signal how much she intends to indulge Trump’s strategy of trying to run the clock out.

Trump already faces trial next month in New York on charges related to hush-money payments to a porn star, but the timing of the other proceedings against him is up in the air, including the federal case in which he stands accused of plotting to overturn the 2020 election and a case in state court in Georgia on similar charges.

But there are smaller decisions on Judge Cannon’s plate as well that will serve to flesh out perspectives on her handling of the case.

One involves whether she will allow Trump’s lawyers to include in one of their public filings the names of nearly two dozen witnesses who might testify at trial. Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, have vehemently protested the move, saying that it could expose the witnesses to the same sort of threats and intimidation that other participants in the array of legal proceedings against Trump have also faced.

The other decision concerns a highly unusual request by Trump’s lawyers to see a secret government filing detailing the sensitive classified discovery material that prosecutors believe they have no right to see.

It seems increasingly likely that if Judge Cannon rules for Trump on any of these matters, Smith’s team might respond by seeking its first appeal since the indictment in the case was handed up in June. Prosecutors have already shown their frustration with the judge, accusing her in recent court papers of having committed a “clear error” after she initially agreed to let Trump’s lawyers release the witnesses’ names — a move that she quickly put on hold after the government complained.

From the moment Judge Cannon was randomly assigned to the classified documents case, which she is overseeing in the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., legal experts and others closely watching the proceeding have — fairly or not — regarded her with a skeptical eye.

Even for the most seasoned jurist, overseeing the criminal prosecution of a former president on explosive charges of illegally hoarding state secrets would have been a challenging task. And Judge Cannon, who is 43, came to the case with only three years on the bench and with little experience in running criminal trials — let alone one that will hinge on the intricacies of the federal law governing the use of classified material and that will play out under global scrutiny.

But Judge Cannon did herself no favors by making a highly controversial decision during the early investigative phase of the case, well before an indictment was returned.

After the F.B.I. searched Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Florida, for classified documents in August 2022, Judge Cannon appointed an independent arbiter to figure out if any of the materials collected by the agents were privileged and should be kept from the hands of investigators.

While that decision wasn’t all that unusual, a second one she made at the same time was all but unheard-of: Treating Trump with what appeared to be special favor, she effectively froze the documents case in place until after the work of the arbiter, known as a special master, was complete.

That move flew in the face of the Justice Department’s repeated assertions that in scrutinizing Trump, it was merely following the facts and the law, and it earned Judge Cannon a stern rebuke from the federal appeals court in Atlanta that sits over her. A three-judge panel of the court not only unanimously reversed her decision, but also made a point of saying that she seemed to have granted “a special exception” for Trump in defiance of “our nation’s foundational principle that our law applies to all.”

It may be worth noting at this point that Trump has spared Judge Cannon the relentless attacks he has directed at most of the jurists involved in his three other criminal cases and in several of his civil trials.

In fact, Trump has barely said a word about her on social media, on the campaign trail or while visiting the courthouse. That is a far cry from the verbal assaults he has made against nearly every other judge handling his cases, whom he has referred to, in various turns, as “corrupt and radical,” “a radical Obama hack” and “a Trump-hating guy.”

Judge Cannon is expected to settle the timing issues for the trial next Friday, when she has scheduled a hearing in Fort Pierce to set a new date for the proceeding. She is waiting to receive a final set of court papers from Trump’s legal team tomorrow before deciding on how to handle the witnesses.

As for the dispute over granting Trump access to the government’s sealed discovery papers, it has been fully briefed and discussed with the defense and prosecution during separate court hearings. She could make a decision at any time.

We’re asking readers what they’d like to know about the Trump cases: the charges, the procedure, the important players or anything else. You can send us your question by filling out this form.

In the case about hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, what is the crime? Did Trump use money donated to his campaign? — Camille Olcese, Lawrence, Kansas

Alan: Trump has been charged with multiple counts of falsifying business records — invoices, ledger entries and checks — in order to disguise the nature of the payments that passed from his lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, to Stormy Daniels. In essence, he’s been accused of using the phony documentation to cover up his relationship with Daniels in an effort to win the presidency. Prosecutors say that amounts to campaign finance violations.

Trump is at the center of at least four separate criminal investigations, at both the state and federal levels, into matters related to his business and political careers. Here is where each case currently stands.


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