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Prosecutors in Trump’s case over classified documents blast the judge over her ‘fundamentally flawed’ order

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors reprimanded the judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s case over classified documents in Florida, warning her about possible jury instructions that they say rely on a “fundamentally flawed legal premise.”

In an unusual order, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon had asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit proposed jury instructions on most charges, even as it remains unclear when the case could go to trial. She asked the attorneys to respond to competing interpretations of the law that appeared to accept the Republican ex-president’s argument that under a statute known as the Presidential Records Act he was entitled to retain the sensitive documents he is now accused of possessing it.

The order surprised legal experts and alarmed special counsel Jack Smith’s team, which said in a filing late Tuesday that the 1978 law — which requires presidents to return presidential records to the government upon leaving office but allows them purely to store personal data – has no relevance. in a case involving top secret documents.

Those documents were clearly not personal, according to prosecutors, and there is no evidence that Trump ever identified them as such. They said the suggestion he made was only “made up” after it emerged that he had taken the boxes of White House documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, after his presidency, and that none of the witnesses they interviewed in the investigation support his argument.

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“No one heard Trump say that he was marking documents as personal or that he believed, at the time he caused the transfer of boxes to Mar-a-Lago, that removing documents would amount to marking them as personal under the law. PRA,” prosecutors wrote. “On the contrary, every witness who was asked this question had never heard anything like it before.”

Smith’s team said that if the judge insists on mentioning the Presidential Records Act in her jury instructions, she should let attorneys know as soon as possible so they can appeal.

The filing reflects prosecutors’ continued exasperation with Cannon’s handling of the case.

The Trump-appointed judge has yet to rule on multiple defense motions to dismiss the case, as well as other disagreements between the two sides, and the trial date remains in flux, suggesting a prosecution that the team van Smith says there is overwhelming evidence, could remain unsolved. by the time of the November presidential election.

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Cannon, who previously faced blistering criticism over her decision to grant Trump’s request for an independent arbitrator to review documents obtained during an FBI investigation into Mar-a-Lago, heard arguments last month about two of Trump’s motions to dismiss the case: that the presidential Archives Act allowed him to designate the documents as personal and he was therefore allowed to keep them.

The judge seemed skeptical about that position, but did not immediately rule. Days later, she asked the two sides to draft jury instructions that responded to the following premise: “A president has the exclusive authority under the PRA to categorize documents as personal or presidential during his/her presidency. Neither a court nor a jury may make or review such a categorization decision.”

An outgoing president’s decision to exclude personal documents from those returned to the government, she continued, “constitutes a president’s categorization of those documents as personal under the PRA.”

That interpretation of the law is wrong, prosecutors said. They also urged Cannon to take swift action in denying the defense’s motion to dismiss.

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“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 permitted under the Espionage Act, and the PRA should have no role in the jury instructions on the elements of Section 793,” they said, citing the law that makes it illegal to illegally withhold national defense information.

“Indeed, based on its current record, the PRA should have no role at all in the process,” she added.

Trump, the Republicans’ presumptive 2024 nominee, faces dozens of criminal charges related to his mishandling of classified documents, according to an indictment alleging he improperly obtained a Pentagon “plan of attack” and a classified map containing related to a military operation. The Florida case is one of four criminal cases against the former president, who insists he did nothing wrong in any of them.

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