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Special counsel calls for a speedy trial in Trump's documents case

Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters last month in Washington. Smith has asked a court not to delay Trump's trial indefinitely as the former president has requested.
Jose Luis Magana
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters last month in Washington. Smith has asked a court not to delay Trump's trial indefinitely as the former president has requested.

Updated July 13, 2023 at 5:50 PM ET

Special counsel Jack Smith told a federal judge there is "no basis in law or fact" for indefinitely postponing the federal trial of former President Donald Trump and urged the court to proceed with jury selection in December.

In a new court filing, Smith wrote that one of Trump's legal arguments "borders on frivolous" and said there's no evidence that waiting until after the 2024 presidential election would make the process any easier.

"The legal issues Defendants raise do not justify deviation from a speedy trial date, much less open-ended deferral of considering one," wrote Smith and assistant special counsel David Harbach.

Trump faces dozens of felony charges for willful retention of national security information, including highly classified papers he allegedly stored in a ballroom and a bathroom at his Florida resort. He's also accused of conspiring to obstruct the FBI investigation alongside his valet Walt Nauta, who allegedly moved boxes to evade government scrutiny. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

This week, Trump and Nauta suggested Judge Aileen Cannon postpone the trial, perhaps until after the results of the presidential election, where Trump is running for the Republican nomination.

"There is simply no question any trial of this action during the pendency of a Presidential election will impact both the outcome of that election and, importantly, the ability of the Defendants to obtain a fair trial," wrote Trump attorneys Christopher Kise and Todd Blanche.

But federal prosecutors are pushing back on the idea of a significant delay. They said Trump's expected challenge to the authority of the special counsel would likely fail, as similar efforts did at least twice before, in the Nixon era and during Trump's own tenure in the White House.

Smith also scoffed at the defense plan to use the Presidential Records Act as a shield, pointing out that post-Watergate law is not a criminal statute and it does not cover the alleged hoarding of national security secrets.

"[T]hey should not be permitted to gesture at a baseless legal argument, call it 'novel,' and then claim that the Court will require an indefinite continuance in order to resolve it," wrote Smith and Harbach.

As for the heavy volume of documents and video footage in the case, the special counsel lawyers pointed out that there are only about 4,500 "key" pages and nearly one-third of the over 800,000 pages consists of non-content email header and footer information for two email account holders.

Smith and Harbach said they had already handed over to the defendants all the unclassified witness statements and memos for interviews before mid-May of this year, as well as grand jury transcripts for sessions in Washington, D.C., and the Southern District of Florida. More material will head to the defense within the next week, they wrote.

In all, the special counsel said they had gathered about 340 classified documents from the Mar-a-Lago resort, and would begin sharing "the large majority" of them once defense lawyers receive proper security clearances.

"In sum, neither the amount of classified discovery in this case nor the timetable for its production is a reason for an indefinite continuance of the trial date," Smith and Harbach wrote.

Lawyers for the Justice Department, Trump and Nauta are due in a federal court in Ft. Pierce, Fla., next Tuesday afternoon for a hearing on classified information procedures in the case. That hearing was delayed after a request from the defense teams.

Jury issues loomed large in Trump's court filing earlier this week. The special counsel team told the court that choosing a jury could require a special questionnaire and other steps, but "those are reasons to start the process sooner rather than later."

"The Government's position is that the best way to move this case forward consistent with the Defendants' rights and the public's interest is to set a trial date now," they said.

Trump, who is currently the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, is traveling around the country for rallies and events, another reason his lawyers cited for a delay. But the Justice Department team said that many indicted people have hectic jobs that involve travel, and Trump should be treated no differently.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.