Explainer: What happens next in the Trump documents case? | Inquirer News

Explainer: What happens next in the Trump documents case?

/ 04:50 PM June 14, 2023

 Trump documents case

A sticker depicting former U.S. President Trump is put on a car window, during a rally at Tropical Park, as he is to appear in a federal court on classified document charges, in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 11, 2023. REUTERS

Former U.S. President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to federal criminal charges that he unlawfully kept national-security documents when he left office and lied to officials who sought to recover them.

Here is what to expect as the case proceeds.


What happens next?

It could be a year or more before a trial takes place.


Trump’s plea, entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman in a federal court in Miami, sets up a legal battle likely to play out for months while he seeks to win back the presidency in a November 2024 election.

Trump was allowed to leave court without conditions or travel restrictions and no cash bond was required. Goodman ruled that he was not allowed to communicate with potential witnesses in the case.

Trump’s aide Walt Nauta, who is also charged in the case, appeared alongside Trump but will not have to enter a plea until June 27 because he does not have a local lawyer. He, too, was released without having to post bond and was ordered not to talk to other witnesses.

Federal prosecutors can be expected to begin handing over evidence to Trump’s lawyers. That could include years of correspondence between Trump’s lawyers, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and prosecutors as they haggled over the documents.

At some point, Trump’s lawyers are expected to file a motion to dismiss the case for a variety of reasons, including perhaps his claim he declassified the documents before taking them.

They are also likely to argue the case should be tossed for what they allege was misconduct by prosecutors, including alleged violations of a legal doctrine that permits people to keep communications with their lawyers private.


Motions to dismiss in criminal cases are standard but rarely succeed because defendants face a high burden convincing a judge that their case is too flawed to even go before a jury.

Prosecutors are also entitled to the benefit of the doubt on their factual allegations at that stage.

What impact will the case have on Trump’s campaign?

The charges include violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators.

None of those would automatically prevent Trump from campaigning or taking office if he is convicted. His legal woes have not hurt his standing with Republican voters.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday showed that Trump still led rivals for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election by a wide margin, and that 81% of Republican voters viewed the charges as politically motivated.

Most of Trump’s Republican presidential rivals have lined up behind him and accuse the FBI of political bias, in a sharp turn from the party’s traditional support for law enforcement.

Trump has used legal cases and investigations he faces as fundraising tools, telling supporters that he is under attack and needs their help.

When will the case go on trial?

Any potential trial could be many months away even though Special Counsel Jack Smith, heading the prosecution, has said Trump will have a “speedy” trial.

Trump, who has denied wrongdoing and calls the case a politically motivated “witch hunt,” has a right to face trial within 100 days, but that rarely happens in complex cases. The parties will likely agree to extend deadlines as they pore over evidence and argue legal disputes before a judge.

Will Trump testify?

That would be up to him. Criminal defendants are not required to testify and rarely do because subjecting themselves to cross-examination by prosecutors is risky. Trump did not testify at a recent civil trial over sex abuse and defamation claims brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll. A jury found Trump liable in that case in May.

What happens in the case if Trump wins the election?

It is unlikely the prosecution will proceed if Trump wins the 2024 presidential election.

The U.S. Department of Justice is part of the executive branch, and presidents are the top federal law enforcement officers in the country. Federal prosecutors generally serve at their pleasure.

The Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. The department can deviate from policy in “extraordinary circumstances” with the approval of the U.S. attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement official.

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A lame-duck attorney general serving under President Joe Biden, in this case Merrick Garland, could ignore that policy and forge ahead, but Trump, as president, could fire him and hire an acting replacement of his choice before naming a permanent successor subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.


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TAGS: classified, Donald Trump, Politics, Trial, USA

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