Former President Donald Trump is facing a Monday deadline to respond to the government’s request to push back his classified documents trial to December, but legal experts say the trial won’t start until next year — or even after the 2024 presidential election because of the national security implications at play.
“December is not going to happen,” said Joseph Moreno, a former federal prosecutor and FBI consultant, estimating that the trial “doesn’t happen before the election next year.”
He explained that because of the national security nature of the case, sensitive mechanics are involved when dealing with classified documents during the discovery process and when evaluating what a jury can and cannot see or hear.
A case involving similar charges related to the unauthorized disclosure and retention of national defense information as well as obstruction of justice allegations out of Virginia took more than four years from indictment to conclusion, suggesting Mr. Trump might not face a jury until 2025 — or beyond.
That case involved former CIA employee Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, who was sentenced to three years in prison. He was found guilty of espionage charges related to the disclosure of classified information about Iran and a weapons operation to journalist James Risen.
John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former Justice Department official, said he doesn’t think Mr. Trump’s trial will begin this year. However, he said it could begin before the November election.
“It could well take about a year to start — because of clearing all the counsel, working out a system to show classified documents to a jury (often the government offers generous plea bargains to avoid this) […] and then the complicated constitutional issues,” he explained in an email.
Mr. Trump faces 37 criminal charges, including 31 alleging he withheld national defense information. He is also charged with concealing the possession of classified documents and making false statements. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Mr. Yoo said Mr. Trump’s legal team likely wants the trial to begin after the election.
“Everything Trump says in the campaign could be used against him in court. Everything he says in court could be used against him in the campaign. But I could see Trump himself gambling. If he is down in the race, he might think that the trial would rally support — surely he has noticed that when DOJ has acted against him, his poll numbers go up,” Mr. Yoo said.
Attorneys for Mr. Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Mary Graw Leary, senior associate dean for academic affairs at the Catholic University of America and a former prosecutor, said Mr. Trump has demonstrated that he views the Justice Department as an extension of the president’s personal office — not an independent agency.
“If that is the defendant’s viewpoint, then one could imagine him desiring to delay the trial until a time when he controls the Department of Justice (which would require him to win the election). Presumably at which time he may decide to improperly interfere in the workings of the justice system and — if he could appoint the people to do it — improperly bring the case to an end. Such a scenario for such a person would incentivize them to delay the trial,” she said in an email.
Mr. Trump’s trial date is scheduled for Aug. 14, but federal prosecutors have requested a continuance until at least Dec. 11.
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee overseeing the documents case, asked for Mr. Trump’s lawyers to respond to that request by Monday.
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this story.