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Judge heard arguments about when Trump's classified documents trial should begin

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

It's been an eventful day for former President Donald Trump. On his Truth Social platform, he said he got a letter informing him that he's a target of special counsel Jack Smith's investigation of the January 6 insurrection, a notice that he is likely to be indicted. That would be his third criminal indictment. And in Fort Pierce, Fla., today, there was a hearing in the case of his second criminal indictment over his handling of classified documents. A federal judge heard arguments about the trial schedule, with Trump's attorneys pushing for it to begin after next year's presidential election.

NPR's Greg Allen was in court, and he joins us now from Fort Pierce. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Greg, what happened in court today?

ALLEN: Well, you know, this hearing was set to discuss how the attorneys and the court will handle the classified documents that Trump and aide Walt Nauta are charged with withholding and concealing. But the hearing quickly moved into a question of when all the proceedings could begin. A big issue is the sheer volume of material that was seized at Mar-a-Lago and other evidence that the government has accumulated in making this case against Trump and Nauta.

Trump's lawyers say there's more than 190,000 emails, 450 gigabytes of data and a thousand days of surveillance camera footage from Mar-a-Lago that they have to go through. And for that reason alone, they say, they don't have - they don't even want to talk about a possible trial schedule until this November. And they said they might be ready to start offering pretrial motions possibly in December. That's much later than what the government's looking for. And Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said in his view, the only fair thing to do would be to delay the trial until after next year's presidential election.

FLORIDO: And how did the judge in the case react to all this?

ALLEN: Well, Judge Aileen Cannon is a Trump appointee. She kind of got a legal rebuke last year by a federal appeals court that struck down a ruling she issued in an earlier documents case. It was a ruling that favored Trump and surprised many legal observers. She's been pushing, though, for a speedy trial in this case. And today, she took note of this large volume of material that the defense says they have to go through. And she also seemed sympathetic to an argument by Trump's lawyers that this could be legally considered a complex case, which would merit a more extended trial schedule.

FLORIDO: Well, I understand that federal prosecutors obviously want this trial to start sooner. Why did they say they want a sooner trial?

ALLEN: Well, you know, I think they really want to get this going because with the legal issues accumulating around Trump, they want to get this case out of the way. Also, I think they're looking to the presidential election. They'd like to get it done well before that. Prosecutor David Harbach took special exception to the argument by Trump's lawyers that the case should be handled differently because their client is a former president who's running, once again, for the nation's highest office. Harbach told the judge that she should reject that argument. Mr. Trump is not the president, he said. He's a private citizen indicted by a grand jury.

He also rejected an argument by Trump's lawyers that all the publicity and press coverage around this case was another reason to delay the start of the trial until after the election. Publicity surrounding former President Trump, Harbach said, is, quote, "chronic and almost permanent." Judge Cannon said she'd issue an order soon on what she called an appropriate schedule for the trial.

FLORIDO: OK, Greg. Let's loop back, if we could, to that special counsel notice we mentioned at the top. Former President Trump said he received a target letter from the Justice Department continuing its probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. What can you tell us about that letter?

ALLEN: Well, you know, as you mentioned, we heard about this from the former president himself when he posted on his Truth Social website - social media website that he got word on Sunday that he's a target of the January 6 grand jury. And that typically means that he's likely to be indicted. But Trump didn't say what the exact charges were that are in play or when they might happen. It's sometimes just a few days between a target letter and an actual indictment.

Trump says he has just - he was given four days to decide if he wants to appear before the grand jury.

FLORIDO: OK.

ALLEN: A spokesman for special counsel Jack Smith is declining to comment on Trump and the case.

FLORIDO: OK.

ALLEN: But many members of Trump's inner circle have already testified before grand juries in Washington and things about this case.

FLORIDO: All right.

ALLEN: Among the people who testified were Vice President Mike Pence and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

FLORIDO: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Fort Pierce, Fla. Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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