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Prosecutors and Trump Lawyers Clash Over Timing in Classified Documents Case

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The federal judge overseeing former President Donald J. Trump’s classified documents case expressed skepticism on Tuesday about the government’s request to go to trial as early as December, but she also seemed disinclined to accede to Mr. Trump’s desire to have the trial put off until after the 2024 election.

Appearing for the first time at a hearing in the case, the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, came to no decision about when to schedule the trial, saying she would issue a written order “promptly.”

The question of the trial’s timing could be hugely consequential in the case given that the legal proceeding is intertwined with the calendar of a presidential campaign in which Mr. Trump is now the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

For nearly two hours in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee, peppered prosecutors and the former president’s lawyers with questions that suggested she was in command of her courtroom and well-versed in the facts of the case.

Her decision about when to schedule the trial will be an early test for the judge, who came under widespread criticism last year after she rendered some decisions in a related case that were favorable to Mr. Trump at an early stage of the investigation.

At one point, Judge Cannon directly asked one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Christopher Kise, if he wanted to put off the trial until after election. When Mr. Kise said he did, Judge Cannon told him that she wanted to focus on near-term issues like the amount of discovery evidence the defense had to review and the types of motions the lawyers planned to file.

As the hearing came to end, Todd Blanche, another one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, asked Judge Cannon if the defense could return to court in November and reassess the trial schedule then. Appearing to pick up on the judge’s desire to create what she called “a road map” for the case, Mr. Blanche said that if a trial date absolutely had to be chosen, he would ask for one in mid-November 2024, after the election.

Timing is particularly important in this case because if the trial is delayed until after votes are cast and Mr. Trump wins the race, he could try to pardon himself or have his attorney general dismiss the matter entirely.

The hearing in Fort Pierce, two and half hours north of Miami, came a little more than a month after the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, filed an indictment against Mr. Trump accusing him of holding on to 31 individual classified documents after he left office in violation of the Espionage Act.

Mr. Trump has also been charged with a co-defendant, Walt Nauta, one of his personal aides, of a conspiracy to obstruct the government’s repeated efforts to reclaim the documents.

While Mr. Nauta was in court on Tuesday with his lawyer, Stanley Woodward Jr., Mr. Trump was not. Still, he was the main subject of discussion as the two sides in the case went beyond the question of the trial’s schedule and engaged in an almost philosophical debate about the inherent tensions of putting on trial a former president who was running to reclaim the White House.

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