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Trump legal team hemorrhages as friendly judge catches his Florida case

An appellate reversal kept the classified documents probe chugging last year after the Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon worked to delay it.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The federal case against former President Donald Trump regarding his handling of classified documents has begun to take shape ahead of his initial court appearance next Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump appointed in 2020, was assigned the case Friday and will ultimately be in charge of setting the timeline for the case, including whether to go to trial before the 2024 election.

Cannon has prior involvement in the proceedings, dating back to the weeks immediately after the FBI raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last year. A member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2005, Cannon tried to block the Justice Department from using the seized documents until a third party could review them for privilege. The 11th Circuit quickly overturned Cannon's blockade, however, and later reversed the special master's appointment altogether.

While Cannon’s reemergence in the case this week may seem like a boon for Trump’s legal and political hopes, Friday brought stumbles for his defense as well. In a joint statement, Jim Trusty and John Rowley announced that their resignation in both the classified documents case and a separate special counsel investigation of Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

The attorneys explained that, because the case would be proceeding in Miami, “this is a logical moment for us to step aside and let others carry the case through to completion.”

Trump announced on his Truth Social platform that he will now be represented by Todd Blanche, who was a partner with Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft until starting his own law firm in April this year. Thanking Trusty and Rowley for their representation, Trump wrote that “they were up against a very dishonest, corrupt evil and ‘sick’ group of people.”

Soon after announcing the departure of his lawyers and announcing their replacement, Trump also revealed in a Truth Social post that the indictment against him also includes charges against his longtime aide Walt Nauta, who was responsible for moving the boxes at Mar-a-Lago in which Trump kept classified documents.

“They are trying to destroy his life … hoping that he will say bad things about ‘Trump,’” he wrote on Friday.  

Throughout many of his social media posts, Trump has tried to point blame to the Justice Department and President Joe Biden's administration for the latest indictment. While Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the investigations, Smith is not subject to Justice Department oversight and works independently of presidential authority.

The first 31 counts of the indictment against Trump implicates a provision of the Espionage Act that prohibits the retention of classified materials.

The remaining counts relate to Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct the FBI investigation, such as the destruction of documents and providing false statements.

If found guilty, Trump could face at least 10 years in prison.

Trump is accused of taking more than 300 classified documents after he lost reelection. The records included highly sensitive materials on an Iranian missile program, surveillance efforts in China and the nuclear capabilities of an unidentified foreign power.

In addition to his ongoing prosecution in New York — charges in state court there relate to hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign — Trump also faces criminal probes over his role in planning the insurrection and for having asked Georgia election officials to find more votes so he could masquerade as the winner of the 2020 election.

The federal indictment comes as Trump faces more and more challengers for the Republican nomination and the chance to face off against Biden. On Wednesday, both his former vice president Mike Pence and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was the first rival to endorse Trump in 2016, announced their campaigns for the White House.

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Categories / Courts, Criminal, Law

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