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Trump Turmoil: Hits and Misses in the Legal Arena

It has been busy for Donald Trump.

By:  |  March 27, 2024  |    855 Words
GettyImages-2112640005 Donald Trump

Donald Trump (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

After a long day in court Thursday, March 14, Donald Trump got some bad news. Judge Aileen Cannon denied one of his motions to dismiss charges for illegally retaining sensitive government documents after leaving the White House. That’s one down, but he filed several – and this is far from the only legal battle in Trump’s life right now.

Trump in Motion

Trump’s legal team filed four motions to dismiss the charges against him stemming from the storage of government records at Mar-a-Lago. They argued that the former president should have been able to have the documents, even after leaving the White House, because of the Presidential Records Act; that the law he was charged under – the Espionage Act – shouldn’t apply to his behavior based on an unclear precedent in the Constitution; that Jack Smith’s appointment as special counsel was unlawful; and that, since he was president when the documents were taken from the White House, Trump should be covered by presidential immunity.

news and current events bannerJudge Cannon considered two of those motions in the all-day hearing in Fort Pierce, Florida, denying one and withholding judgement – for now – on the other. She denied the motion based on constitutional vagueness. Though the argument warranted “serious consideration,” Judge Cannon said in her ruling that it “depends too greatly on contested instructional questions about still-fluctuating definitions of statutory terms/phrases as charged, along with at least some disputed factual issues as raised in the Motion.” Put simply, it’s complicated and the judge wants to let the jury decide.

The argument by the Trump team is that charges under Statute 739 of the Espionage Act should be tossed because the government can’t establish the former president’s lack of authorization since Trump’s very removal of the documents while president constituted an act of designating them personal records. Defense lawyers argued with prosecutors over the meaning of the word “unauthorized” and how it should be applied.

Judge Cannon also heard arguments on the motion to dismiss on the grounds that Trump, as president, had “unreviewable discretion” to make any document personal in nature under the Presidential Records Act. “President Trump was still President of the United States when, for example, many of the documents at issue were packed (presumably by the GSA), transported, and delivered to Mar-a-Lago,” Trump’s legal team argued in its filing. By this reasoning, prosecutors shouldn’t have opened a case in the first place, and, as such, any obstruction charges are also invalid.

Trump and his co-defendants have asked for more hearings on other motions to dismiss, including those based on claims of vindictive prosecution and presidential immunity, though the latter will be considered next month by the US Supreme Court in a separate case brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

Peach State Predicament

Down south in the Peach State, both Trump and those prosecuting him were on trial, so to speak. The former president faces state-level charges for election interference in Georgia – but right now, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the person prosecuting him, is the one in the hot seat.

GettyImages-2043989919 Fani Willis

Fani Willis (Photo by Alex Slitz-Pool/Getty Images)

Several defendants have pushed for the disqualification of Willis – a case with 19 defendants, including Trump – after it came to light that she may have benefited financially from a romantic relationship with Nathan Wade, the man she hired to lead the prosecution. The judge deciding whether Ms. Willis would be disqualified or not, Judge Scott McAffee, ruled Friday – the same day that Judge Cannon denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the documents case – that the district attorney could either remove herself from the case or get rid of Mr. Wade.

Judge McAfee had tossed six of the charges against the former president and his co-defendants the Wednesday before, citing a “fatal” lack of details, though he did not throw out the racketeering charges or certain “overt acts” in the indictment against them.

Just hours after the ruling, Mr. Wade resigned, clearing the way for Ms. Willis to continue her prosecution. Ms. Willis still faces a congressional investigation into her use of federal funds. And House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) has threatened possible contempt proceedings against her should she fail to fully comply with a subpoena for documents. Then there’s the new Georgia law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp Wednesday, that empowers a state commission to discipline and remove prosecutors.

Targeting Trump was always a dangerous move for anyone with skeletons in the closet. One can’t expect to go after a president, a billionaire, or a polarizing media obsession – let alone all three – without drawing plenty of attention in the process. That can work out incredibly well, building a solid publicity platform from which a particularly ambitious person could launch a campaign for higher office at the state or even national level. But, as Ms. Willis has discovered, it can also go the other way, destroying a career rather than building it up. She certainly has had no shortage of attention since taking on Trump – it just wasn’t the attention she wanted.

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