Trump Aims to Use Supreme Court Win in Election Case to Dismiss Classified Docs Case

Trump Aims to Use Supreme Court Win in Election Case to Dismiss Classified Docs Case

Donald Trump is banking on a recent Supreme Court decision in his election interference case to secure a third procedural victory, this time in the case accusing him of retaining classified government documents after leaving office. Legal experts suggest the ruling provides Trump with new avenues to challenge special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment. On Friday, Trump requested Judge Aileen Cannon to delay the case further, which still lacks a trial date due to numerous pending motions, to consider the decision’s impact. Trump also urged the judge to reference Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent to argue that Smith’s role as a prosecutor should be invalidated.

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision asserts that presidents are protected from prosecution for official acts and have “at least a presumptive immunity from criminal prosecution” for actions “within the outer perimeter of his official responsibility.” Although Trump is not immune for unofficial acts, the burden of proof lies with the government in close cases. Much of the indictment pertains to Trump’s actions post-presidency, complicating the argument that they are “official acts.” However, Trump has options. He has claimed that he designated the documents as “personal” while still in office, thus they cannot be treated as sensitive government secrets. Federal prosecutors have countered that the Presidential Records Act does not permit Trump to classify the documents he took from the White House as personal.

Legal experts anticipate the defense will revisit arguments about Trump’s authority to declassify documents as he left office. Joel Johnson, an associate professor at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law, noted that the outcome hinges on whether Judge Cannon views Trump’s decision to transport the documents to Mar-a-Lago as an official act of designating them as personal, which could be a critical factor in the criminal charges. Johnson believes the Supreme Court decision could benefit Trump, expecting his legal team to argue that he designated the documents as personal before leaving office, thus performing an official act that should be immune from prosecution.

Other experts are skeptical of this argument but acknowledge that Judge Cannon, who has spent extensive time hearing defense motions to dismiss the charges on various grounds, might consider it. Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor of Law at Boston College and former Assistant United States Attorney, expressed concern that the Supreme Court’s decision might provide the defense with a confused basis to challenge the case. Cohen fears that the ambiguity in the court’s ruling could allow the defense to link unofficial acts to something that happened while Trump was president, creating confusion about whether the failure to return the documents was official or not.

Cohen argued that the court’s decision should not impact the case, as it involves unofficial acts like failing to respond to subpoenas and hiding documents, actions Trump took as a private citizen. Richard Gregorie, a former Chief Assistant for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, Florida, echoed this sentiment, stating that Trump should not be able to claim presidential immunity for actions taken after leaving office. However, he acknowledged the possibility of the judge requiring a hearing or preventing some evidence from being presented.

Trump’s campaign responded with a statement from the former president, celebrating the Supreme Court ruling on his social media platform, Truth Social. Trump claimed the decision should end all investigations against him, including those in New York. In a later statement, Trump declared the decision had granted him “total exoneration.”

The ruling also opens other avenues for Trump’s defense. In a concurring opinion, Justice Thomas suggested that the special counsel’s appointment might be unconstitutional. While Thomas’ opinion is not binding, it could still be significant. Johnson noted that Thomas’ opinion expresses substantial doubts about the constitutionality of special counsel and provides a detailed argument that Judge Cannon could use to reach a similar conclusion. However, Johnson warned that relying on this opinion would not protect her from reversal on appeal, a point others also highlighted.

Dave Aronberg, the State Attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, predicted that if Judge Cannon adopts Thomas’ reasoning, she would likely be reversed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The overarching point remains that the immunity ruling further diminishes the likelihood of the trial occurring before November, if at all. There is no trial date set, and no indication that one is forthcoming. Justin Levitt, a professor of law at Loyola Marymount University, stated that the decision reconfirms the improbability of the trial being heard before November, almost guaranteeing a delay past Election Day.

In a separate development, Judge Aileen Cannon denied Trump’s motion to dismiss charges based on unconstitutional vagueness. Trump’s attorneys had argued that the law used to charge him was too vague. Cannon noted that the issue of potential vagueness would be better addressed with jury-instruction briefing or other appropriate motions rather than in Trump’s motion to dismiss charges. Cannon has yet to rule on Trump’s motion to dismiss based on his argument that he had the authority as president to declare documents as his “personal” records.

Trump’s legal team continues to push various arguments for dismissing the case, including claims of presidential immunity and the Presidential Records Act. The Act states that upon the conclusion of a president’s term, the Archivist of the United States assumes responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of presidential records. Trump’s defense argues that his handling of classified material is allowed under this Act.

As Trump faces multiple criminal cases while campaigning for the 2024 presidential election, the Supreme Court decision adds another layer of complexity to his legal battles. The outcome of these cases will significantly impact his political future and the broader legal landscape regarding presidential immunity and the handling of classified documents.

Source: NBC News, CNN

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