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Judge Cannon skeptical of Trump co-defendants’ arguments to dismiss charges

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon on Friday seemed skeptical about dropping charges against Donald Trump’s two co-defendants in the classified documents case and suggested that their arguments for dismissal would be better suited as a defense at trial.

Attorneys for Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira — who are both still employed by Trump — argued that the charges against them should be dismissed, in part, because the indictment accused them of obstructing officials’ efforts to retrieve classified materials from Trump’s property without providing clear evidence that the employees were aware of an ongoing investigation or knew that the boxes of documents contained classified materials.

Prosecutors said the information laid out in the indictment is sufficient and they did not need to divulge the evidence they would be using at this stage in the proceedings. Cannon seemed to agree and said the defense attorneys could make these arguments in front of a jury.

“So why wouldn’t that be a trial argument?” she repeatedly asked the defense attorney during the two-hour hearing Friday afternoon.

Still, she seemed to grapple with the defense attorneys’ multiple requests, asking both sides pointed questions about case precedent and evidence. She was not required to hold a hearing and could have made a ruling based on their written arguments alone.

Cannon, a relatively inexperienced judge who was nominated by Trump in late 2020, did not indicate when she would issue her ruling. The judge is still wrangling other key decisions in the pretrial proceedings that are preventing the case from moving closer to a trial and has not yet set a firm trial date — leaving a big question as to whether Trump will go to trial in Florida before the 2024 election.

Trump has been the focus of much of the pretrial hearings in the case. But the Friday hearing put the co-defendants’ cases on center stage, offering a window into the two men’s potential defenses: They were merely doing their jobs when they allegedly moved boxes and discussed deleted security footage, and were unaware of the ongoing federal probe.

Prosecutors allege that Nauta and De Oliveira conspired with the former president to obstruct the investigation and thwart officials’ attempts to retrieve the government materials Trump took with him after leaving the White House. Prosecutors say the men misled investigators in their statements and plotted to delete security footage to prevent officials from getting the boxes back.

Nauta is also charged with crimes related to allegations that he moved dozens of boxes from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home and private club, to Trump’s residential quarters as investigators sought to locate them.

Nauta, a Trump aide who still travels with him, and De Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago, face eight and four charges, respectively, and have pleaded not guilty.

Trump faces 40 charges in the case, including 32 charges for allegedly violating a portion of the Espionage Act for holding on to 32 documents that prosecutors say contained sensitive government information. Nauta and De Oliveira are not charged with any crimes related to the retention of the materials.

Cannon’s hearing Friday focused on motions to dismiss the case filed by Nauta and De Oliveira. The motions assert that there is no evidence that Nauta or De Oliveira knew there was classified material in the boxes or that they knew of the ongoing government investigation. Because of this, their lawyers argue, the facts laid out in the indictment do not support the charges that the government has levied against them. They have also argued that some of the charges against them are unconstitutionally vague and duplicative.

John Irving, an attorney for De Oliveira, described the allegations against his client as the equivalent of charging a getaway driver as a conspirator in a crime, when the getaway driver is actually an Uber driver who had no idea what the people in his car were doing.

“It’s impossible to obstruct an investigation you don’t know anything about,” Irving said.

Prosecutors said that they only need to show evidence that the defendants were aware of an investigation — not that they knew the specifics of it or what a subpoena demanded.

“We do not have to give these arguments now,” prosecutor Jay Bratt said.

Trump has filed more than a half-dozen motions of his own to dismiss the case, with Nauta and De Oliveira tagging on to some of them. Cannon previously held a hearing on two of Trump’s motions to dismiss the case, rejecting both of them.

Motions to dismiss are generally long-shot arguments that are rarely granted. Irving and Stanley Woodward, the attorney for Nauta, also asked that Cannon require the government to submit a bill of particulars — a document that would provide more details about the evidence underlying the charges in the indictment.

Prosecutors said the indictment is detailed and a bill of particulars would be an unnecessary burden that would force them to reveal their trial strategies.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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