Judge in classified documents case grapples with how Trump’s personal records claim could be explained to a jury

Judge in classified documents case grapples with how Trump’s personal records claim could be explained to a jury - Politics - News

Federal Judge’s Unusual Request in Trump’s Classified Documents Case: Incorporating the Presidential Records Act (PRA)

Federal Judge Aileen Cannon issued an order on Monday, February 21st, for attorneys involved in the former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case to submit instructions for a trial jury regarding the application of the Presidential Records Act (PRA). This request adds an intriguing layer to the ongoing debate surrounding Trump’s authority to retain documents from his White House tenure, potentially influencing the trial outcome.

The unexpected inquiry by Cannon into the PRA’s implications has left several legal experts puzzled and perplexed. The Presidential Records Act is a federal statute that mandates the preservation of certain documents and records created or received by the President and his staff during their service in the White House.

The request for both the Justice Department and Trump’s defense team to consider how a jury could evaluate the criminal law surrounding national security records, given that Trump might argue his PRA authority allowed him to keep documents he chose, opens up new and uncharted territory for both parties.

The Department of Justice maintains that Trump’s charges have no connection to the PRA and are solely concerned with how classified records dealing with US and foreign military secrets were stored insecurely at Mar-a-Lago, a private beach club. Moreover, allegations suggest that these records were mishandled and possibly moved to prevent their discovery by government officials.

Judge Cannon’s order on Monday, February 21st, could be interpreted as a logical exercise aimed at pushing questions about the documents Trump kept to the jury. The judge has thus far refrained from making several legal determinations in Trump’s landmark case.

Under her order, both the special counsel’s office and Trump’s attorneys are required to write jury instructions defining terms of the Espionage Act. The former President is charged under this law for mishandling 32 classified records, with a part of it criminalizing unauthorized possession of documents related to national defense.

However, the judge also asked prosecutors and defense lawyers to write versions of their proposed jury instructions that consider the PRA by April 2nd. According to Cannon’s order, attorneys should engage with competing scenarios and offer alternative draft text assuming each scenario as the correct formulation of law for a jury.

The first version would ask the jury to determine whether the prosecution had proven that Trump did not have authorization to retain classified documents found on his property, regardless of their nature as personal or presidential records. The second scenario assumes that Trump, as President, had complete authority under the PRA to take any records he desired from the White House.

Brad Moss, a national security lawyer, shared his confusion regarding Cannon’s intentions: “I don’t get what she’s doing with this. I don’t understand where she is going with this order,” he told News Finder on Monday, February 21st. “It’s a bizarrely written set of questions that doesn’t lend itself to an easily understandable set of answers.”

Moss added it was possible Cannon wanted to raise some issues about the documents Trump kept for the jury’s consideration, given her reluctance to rule on several legal disputes in Trump’s case thus far.

Trump is seeking Cannon’s dismissal of the charges against him based on the PRA. Although Cannon seemed skeptical during a hearing last week that Trump’s PRA arguments should result in dismissal of charges, she acknowledged they could serve as a compelling defense at trial.

This latest development is an extension of last week’s hearing during which Trump’s legal team argued that he had unlimited power to decide which documents should be returned to the National Archives under the PRA.