Politics /

Trump Classified Documents Trial May Be Delayed More Than A Year, Former Federal Prosecutors Say

Legal experts say Trump could be elected and serving as President again before this case or its appeals processes conclude

Former President Trump has pleaded not guilty to 37 counts related to alleged mishandling of classified documents retrieved from his Palm Beach, Florida estate.

Though U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith has promised a “speedy trial,” legal experts say the trial could take more than a year.

“In every case that I had involving classified information, we never had a speedy trial,” said Stephanie Siegmann, a former chief of the national security unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. “This case will be designated complex because it involves classified information.”

Defense attorney Mark Zaid told Reuters that Smith’s desire for a quick trial makes sense because he wouldn’t want to interfere with the 2024 election process. “But that was just wishful thinking. The reality is the Trump team will be controlling much of the timing of the litigation,” he said.

Complex cases, particularly those involving classified material, can take years to reach trial. Former federal prosecutors told The Atlantic that even under the quickest scenarios, Trump’s trial won’t begin for several months, and potentially more than a year.

It is theoretically possible that with the election next fall, Trump could be in office serving as president before this case concludes, setting up a scenario where he could pardon himself, or facilitate dismissal of the case by the Department of Justice that he would control.

“There’s a pretty obvious incentive from [Trump’s] point of view for delaying this,” Kristy Parker, a lawyer at the advocacy group Protect Democracy who tried cases for 15 years at the Justice Department, told The Atlantic. “That is especially true if he understands that the evidence against him is significant and that the chances of him being convicted of these offenses are pretty high.”

Former prosecutors who spoke with The Atlantic said the timing of the 2024 election could factor into the judge’s decisions on how to schedule the criminal proceedings, as well as any delays attorneys might seek. They added that even if the trial were to conclude before Election Day 2024, it is unlikely that appeals from Trump’s legal team would be exhausted by then should the former president be convicted.

Also complicating scheduling matters could be additional cases that Trump may face: an impending indictment by a Fulton County prosecutor in Georgia, and a second set of indictments by Special Counsel Smith that could be filed in the progressive stronghold of Washington, D.C. in connection with a separate investigation.

Multiple factors can impact how quickly the case moves through the justice system, including Trump’s attorneys challenging the government’s pre-trial motions, the way the judge handles scheduling, and the inherent issues surrounding the handling of classified information.

Both parties and the court will need to follow the strict rules set forth in the Classified Information Procedures Act (CISA), which governs the handling of classified information.

“CIPA has so many different steps, that each one just by virtue of the fact it’s a step takes an uncertain amount of time,” attorney Kel McClanahan told Reuters.

Deciding how the classified material is shared with the defense team and jury could get contentious, leading to delays.

“Some defense teams would agree that that information has to be protected,” David Aaron, a veteran former Justice Department prosecutor now with Perkins Coie, told Reuters. “But a defense team has every right to contest the idea of even protecting that at trial. … They could go ahead and challenge every single argument the government makes.”

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