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Judge denies Trump motion to dismiss documents case

Donald Trump argues he is the victim of selective prosecution and is being targeted by Democrats.

Donald Trump argues he is the victim of selective prosecution and is being targeted by Democrats. Photo: AAP

A federal judge has denied former US president Donald Trump’s request to dismiss a criminal case that charges him with illegally holding onto classified documents after leaving the White House.

The ruling on Thursday by US District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida came hours after a hearing in which his lawyers argued that the central charge in the case is improperly vague.

Cannon, who was appointed to her post by Trump, ruled that question “warrants serious consideration” but should not be decided at this point.

Trump, the Republican challenger to President Joe Biden in the November election, has pleaded not guilty to a 40-count indictment that accuses him of illegally taking sensitive government documents with him when he left the White House in 2021.

It is one of four criminal cases he faces as he tries to win back the White House.

Cannon earlier indicated she was unlikely to dismiss the case based on Trump’s claim that he had deemed the documents to be “personal” rather than government property. That issue could be addressed during the trial, she said.

“Your argument might have some force with respect to a trial defence,” she told Trump’s lawyers.

“It’s difficult to see how this gets you to dismissal of the indictment.”

The hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, was the latest legal gambit by Trump to derail the four criminal cases he faces while he campaigns as the Republican candidate challenging Biden in the November 5 US election.

Trump has argued he is the victim of selective prosecution and is being targeted by Democrats as he seeks to regain the presidency.

Prosecutors said that was not true, pointing to the Justice Department’s classified documents investigation of Biden.

“We are not puppets of the Biden administration,” prosecutor David Harbach said, drawing an audible scoff from Trump.

A federal prosecutor last month said Biden would not face criminal charges for knowingly keeping classified documents at an office and at home after he left the vice presidency in 2017. Mike Pence, who served as vice president under Trump, also was investigated but not charged for keeping classified documents at his Indiana home.

Federal prosecutors who have brought the 40-count indictment against Trump have said his conduct was different.

While Biden and Pence co-operated with investigators, prosecutors have said Trump discussed lying to those who were trying to recover the documents, and moved them around his Mar-a-Lago resort to prevent their discovery.

Some of those documents discussed national security issues including nuclear weapons capabilities and US vulnerability to military attack, according to prosecutors.

“Nothing remotely similar to this happened” when other high US officials allegedly mishandled sensitive government records, said Jay Bratt, a prosecutor on the case.

Trump’s legal woes have not hampered his political prospects so far, and he clinched the Republican presidential nomination this week. On Thursday, supporters rallied outside the courthouse, waving banners and cheering as a motorcade pulled into a secure entrance.

At the hearing, Cannon did not seem inclined to agree that the central charge against Trump – illegally retaining information related to US national defence – is improperly vague, as Trump’s lawyers have argued.

“That would be an extraordinary step,” the judge said.

Trump’s lawyers have made five other arguments for dismissal, which could be considered in future hearings that have not yet been scheduled.

The timing of a trial is uncertain. Both Trump and prosecutors acknowledged the currently scheduled May start date will need to be postponed. Smith has sought a July start, while Trump suggested August even as he argued a trial should not happen before the election.

If Trump wins the election, he would have the power to end the two federal criminal cases, though not the two brought under state law.

Topics: Donald Trump
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