Trump may benefit from judge's decision to side with Smith in classified documents case

 April 6, 2024

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon rejected former President Donald Trump's attorneys' motion to dismiss his case, The Hill reported. Some analysts believe that while the Trump appointee took special counsel Jack Smith's side, it may help Trump in the long run. 

Trump's attorneys argued that their client was allowed to keep more than 300 items recovered from Mar-a-Lago under the Presidential Records Act. In her ruling Thursday, Cannon refused the motion to dismiss the charges against Trump before the trial begins on that basis.

"The Presidential Records Act does not provide a pre-trial basis to dismiss," she stated. Smith had said as much in his appeal to Cannon, making it appear that the two agree.

However, Cannon may have left the door open for a dismissal that would come after the trial started. If she does, it would help shield Trump from further prosecutorial appeals.

The Jury

One of Smith's requests Cannon refused to grant was in her instructions to the jury. Even though she didn't dismiss the case based on the PRA argument, her refusal to exclude it from the jury means they still may hear attorneys' arguments in favor of it.

"To the extent the Special Counsel demands an anticipatory finalization of jury instructions prior to trial, prior to a charge conference, and prior to the presentation of trial defenses and evidence, the Court declines that demand as unprecedented and unjust," the judge wrote. While she said it shouldn't be "misconstrued" as affirming Trump's assertion, it remains an open question in the name of fairness.

On CNN's OutFront the same day, legal analyst Ryan Goodman told host Erin Burnett that this strategy of ruling on the question after the trial begins was intentional. "She could do it in the middle of the trial and then it’s too late. That is not appealable," Goodman said.

"So, she’s actually given him kind of a loss here – but not really. I think this is not what Jack Smith wanted to hear. If she had ruled now that these could be his personal documents, then Jack Smith can appeal that and have the 11th Circuit reverse her," Goodman said.

Legal Experts Agree

MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang echoed the same interpretation of Cannon's actions. "She is telling Jack Smith that she will not rule on jury instructions at this time and will wait until trial and 'the presentation of trial defenses and evidence,'" Phang posted to X, formerly Twitter, Thursday.

"The timing of that means Cannon might wait until AFTER a jury has been sworn-in and jeopardy attaches. Once jeopardy attaches, a criminal defendant cannot be tried a second time for the same crime," Phang pointed out.

"This is exactly what Smith is trying to avoid by having Cannon rule on the jury instructions at this stage. Cannon is sticking her finger in Smith's face and telling him to do something about it," she added.

Although Cannon ruled against Trump's attorneys, it's looking more like a win than a loss for him based on the experts' analysis. If Trump can have his case dismissed with little to no chance for prosecutors to appeal, he could find himself completely free of these charges after all.

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