RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A trial date has been set for former President Donald Trump’s federal charges of willful retention of classified government records and obstruction of justice.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has set the date for Aug. 14. But legal experts agree that the chances it will actually start that soon are slim.
The allegations against Trump involve sensitive documents that fall under the Classified Information Procedures Act. We can expect there to be a long list of motions in the months ahead that will likely delay the initial trial date.
“So I would expect the government to be preparing, if they have not already prepared motions, to protect that information both in the phase of discovery where the government discloses to the defendants all the documents and materials to which the defendant is entitled, and also with regard to the introduction of evidence at trial,” Shane Stansbury, a former federal prosecutor, said.
Stansbury teaches Duke University law students how to prosecute cases that involve national security. He said it’s not only the 31 documents that are specified in the indictment that have to be protected but any supporting evidence that falls into the national security category as well.
“There are a variety of different procedures available to the government. I expect there will be a lot of litigation surrounding that. What the defendant thinks he is entitled to and what form that takes. And then, of course, when you get to trial, that’s a whole different kind of experience. And there are procedures with regard to what the documents look like at trial. I expect that there will be litigation around that as well regarding what can and can’t be said in the courtroom, what is going to be shown to the jury as opposed to the public, etc.
There’s also a risk of what the government refers to as graymail, where the defendant might seek to introduce classified material at trial which the government may or may not want to be disclosed, so there is obviously the standard national security risk, but there are also these trial risks,” he said.
Prosecutors will have had conversations with U.S. intelligence agencies about what sensitive information will be admitted as evidence. Stansbury said the government has the option in some instances to use what’s referred to as the silent witness rule.
“This is an example of where the government might seek to use codes at trial, so rather than the government referring to our ally, right, they may be referring to country ‘A.’ That doesn’t mean the jury doesn’t necessarily see the real document. But they may come up with a solution where the government is able to enter that document in redacted form in the public courtroom. And use these kinds of code words to protect our allies,” he said.
This all comes as the clock is ticking toward the election and while the defense works to convince a jury their client is innocent.
“I’ll be very interested in seeing how the government ends up walking this fine line of bringing a case involving highly sensitive documents and proving its case before a jury and showing that these are serious violations. It’s a fine dance that the government has to perform here. It’s been done before, but I’ll be watching closely to see how they how they do it here,” Stansbury said.