Judge denies Trump's motion to dismiss classified docs charges, also rejects 'unprecedented and unjust' demands from Special Counsel Smith

 April 5, 2024

In his classified documents criminal case, former President Donald Trump has repeatedly argued that the charges against him should be dropped because his actions were permitted by provisions of the Presidential Records Act, which in his view took precedence over the provision of the Espionage Act that he was charged under.

On Thursday, however, presiding U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon denied Trump's motion to have the charges dismissed and rejected his arguments about the PRA taking priority over the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post.

Yet, the judge also included a smackdown of Special Counsel Jack Smith in response to a recent filing from his office that appeared to openly question and sharply criticize how she has been conducting pre-trial matters in the case.

Trump's motion to dismiss denied

It was about three weeks ago that Judge Cannon held a hearing on some of former President Trump's motions to dismiss the charges against him, which included his assertions that his alleged criminal acts under the Espionage Act were permitted by the Presidential Records Act.

Some legal analysts worried that she would side with Trump on that claim, and those concerns were elevated a few days later when the judge issued an order for the prosecution and defense to submit preliminary proposals for jury instructions based on two hypothetical scenarios, both of which involved Trump's claimed authorization under the PRA to designate documents as "personal" or "presidential" for record-keeping purposes.

However, those fears turned out to be unfounded, as Cannon denied Trump's motion to dismiss in a three-page order on Thursday which stated that the challenged counts against him, Counts 1-32, "track the statutory language and essential elements of the charged portion of 18 U.S.C. § 793(e).

"Those same counts make no reference to the Presidential Records Act, nor do they rely on that statute for purposes of stating an offense," she continued. "As for the remaining counts against Defendant Trump (Counts 33–38, 40–41), they too track the applicable statutory language and essential elements of the charged crimes."

"More generally, the Superseding Indictment specifies the nature of the accusations against Defendant Trump in a lengthy speaking indictment with embedded excerpts from investigative interviews, photographs, and other content," the judge added. "For these reasons, accepting the allegations of the Superseding Indictment as true, the Presidential Records Act does not provide a pre-trial basis to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(3)(B)(v) -- either as to Counts 1 through 32 or as to the remaining counts, all of which state cognizable offenses."

Smith criticizes and questions judge's orders

Before fans of Special Counsel Smith get too excited about his apparent victory here with Judge Cannon's denial of former President Trump's PRA claim, she had some sharp words for the federal prosecutor as well in her order that clearly addressed his recent criticism of her handling of the case thus far.

Slate reported this week that, in response to Cannon's prior order requesting jury instruction proposals for two scenarios based on the PRA claims, Smith's office, in a 24-page filing, questioned the "fundamentally flawed legal premise" those scenarios were based upon.

"The PRA’s distinction between personal and presidential records has no bearing on whether a former President’s possession of documents containing national defense information is authorized under the Espionage Act, and the PRA should play no role in the jury instructions on the elements of Section 793. Indeed, based on the current record, the PRA should not play any role at trial at all," the filing stated and further urged Cannon to rule swiftly on the matter so that Smith could seek "prompt appellate review" of any adverse decision.

Cannon's pushback against Smith's angry response filing

Judge Cannon was likely not pleased with the unsubtle fury and incorrect assumptions of Special Counsel Smith in his filing that she would even begin to entertain the notion put forward by former President Trump about his indicted acts being authorized and permitted by the Presidential Records Act, and she made that clear at the end of Thursday's order.

"Separately, 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," she wrote. "The Court’s Order soliciting preliminary draft instructions on certain counts should not be misconstrued as declaring a final definition on any essential element or asserted defense in this case."

"Nor should it be interpreted as anything other than what it was: a genuine attempt, in the context of the upcoming trial, to better understand the parties’ competing positions and the questions to be submitted to the jury in this complex case of first impression," the judge added. "As always, any party remains free to avail itself of whatever appellate options it sees fit to invoke, as permitted by law."

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