Trump was in court Thursday for crucial hearing to dismiss charges in classified documents case

 March 14, 2024

Former President Donald Trump and his attorneys were in a South Florida courtroom on Thursday as part of their efforts to dismiss the classified documents case brought against him by Special Counsel Jack Smith, according to ABC News.

The two-hour hearing was centered on two separate motions to dismiss the criminal charges -- one of which argued that Trump had the authority to declassify certain documents under the Presidential Records Act, and the second which argued that charges filed under the World War I-era Espionage Act were "unconstitutionally vague" as applied to Trump.

Judge Aileen Cannon was reportedly "skeptical" of some of the arguments put forward by Trump's attorneys and further suggested that it was "premature" to discuss certain aspects of the case, and ultimately ended the hearing without rendering a decision on the motions, though she did state that she would be "ruling on them promptly."

Certain charges are "unconstitutionally vague" and should be dismissed

Up first for discussion during the hearing, according to CBS News, was the motion that called for the dismissal of the "unconstitutionally vague" charges against former President Trump for his alleged unlawful retention of classified documents that pertained to national defense information.

"Why are we having this as-applied discussion now given the chance of disputed facts," Judge Cannon asked at one point, suggesting it was better suited for during the actual trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin in late May but will almost certainly be delayed until later in the summer or even next year.

Trump's attorney, Emil Bove, argued that the applicable statute was vague because it did not specifically address one way or the other whether or not a president was authorized to declassify defense-related materials, which triggered a back-and-forth between the judge and attorneys on both sides about the definition of "unauthorized" and the timing of when any presidential authorization might end.

Bove insisted that the charges should be dropped for vagueness, but Cannon observed that "declaring a statute unconstitutionally vague is an extraordinary step."

Trump's purported authority under the Presidential Records Act

The second half of the hearing, per ABC News, addressed the Presidential Records Act of 1978 and its relevant language that permits a sitting president to determine whether certain records are "personal" and can be retained as compared to which are "presidential" and must be turned over to the National Archives for safekeeping.

Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, argued that all presidents going back to George Washington had kept certain documents after leaving office, but pointed to more recent examples -- including Presidents Bill Clinton and Joe Biden -- of classified materials that were retained after leaving office without criminal charges being pursued, and argued that "The only time that the government has taken a different position ... is President Trump. Period."

CNN reported that federal prosecutors pushed back during the hearing and asserted that the records retained by Trump were "nowhere near personal," that the PRA didn't give presidents "carte blanche" to declassify whatever they wanted, and, in response to a defense argument that the PRA only allows for civil instead of criminal remedies for violations, said it would be "absurd" for the National Archives to not be able to seek Justice Department assistance in settling disputes.

Unfortunately for Trump, Judge Cannon told defense attorney Blanche about his PRA arguments, "I am not seeing how any of that leads to a dismissal of the indictment" -- at least, not at this point in the proceedings.

No ruling yet on dismissal motions or when the trial will eventually begin

To be sure, while Judge Cannon seemed to express some skepticism toward the defense team's arguments for dismissal, she did not outright reject them either, and as mentioned said that she would "promptly" issue a ruling soon.

CNN noted that this hearing only dealt with two of nine total motions to dismiss that were filed by Trump's team, and while no hearings are currently scheduled to address the other seven filings, it remains possible that Cannon could decide she needs further clarification from either side before fully addressing some or all of them.

Judge Cannon had initially scheduled the classified documents trial to begin on May 20 but has strongly signaled that the date will be pushed back. ABC News reported that Special Counsel Smith has suggested a new trial date at some point in July, while CBS News reported that Trump's team has suggested that it begin no sooner than August or September, if not be pushed back until after the 2024 election is completed in November.

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