Fla. Judge Denies Trump’s ‘Unconstitutional Vagueness’ Claim but Still Open to Tossing Case


(Headline USA) In a day that saw presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s lawyers working overtime, with major developments in three of his four criminal lawfare trials, the one in which Trump most hoped for a big win wound up being a mild disappointment.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday rejected one bid from Trump to throw out out his classified documents criminal case on the basis of “unconstitutional vagueness.”

However, opinions differed as to whether Cannon remained open to a second motion from Trump’s legal team concerning the issue of “selective prosecution,” with conservative investigative reporter Julie Kelly projecting a dismissal.

Kelly laid out her own argument in a lengthy Twitter thread noting Cannon’s frequent references to key details in the Robert Hur report that outlined the somewhat parallel classified documents case, for which President Joe Biden was not charged.

“Cannon won’t dismiss the case based on the motions debated today–vagueness of Espionage Act and protection under the Presidential Records Act,” Kelly tweeted. “But it’s very likely she will dismiss the case based on selective prosecution, a motion still pending before her.”

Cannon issued a two-page order saying that though the Trump team had raised “various arguments warranting serious consideration,” a dismissal of charges was not merited based on the vagueness argument.

During the hearing, which lasted more than three-and-a-half hours, Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by the former president said at one point that a dismissal of the indictment would be “difficult to see” and that it would be “quite an extraordinary” step to strike down an Espionage Act statute that underpins the bulk of the felony counts against Trump.

Nonetheless, the fact that cases against Biden and former President Bill Clinton both were summarily dismissed thus strengthens Trump’s argument that special counsel Jack Smith was a political appointee with a mandate to target Trump in order to derail his campaign, not because of any national security threat he posed.

In fact, Tur’s report reveals that the flagrancy and callous disregard with which Biden mishandled classified documents was far more egregious than Trump’s offense, and took place over a longer period of time, when he clearly and unambiguously lacked any authority to be in possession of the materials.

Thursday’s ruling from Cannon was a modest win for  Smith’s team, but it left unanswered questions over when the case might proceed to trial.

Cannon heard arguments on March 1 on when to schedule a new trial date—it was initially set for May 20—but has yet to announce one and gave no indication Thursday on when she might do so.

Prosecutors have pressed the judge to set a date for this summer. Trump’s lawyers are hoping to put it off until after the election.

Trump attended Thursday’s arguments, listening intently with his hands sometimes clasped in front of him on the defense table as his attorneys pressed Cannon to throw out the case.

After the hearing, Trump on his Truth Social platform took note of the “big crowds” outside the courthouse, which included supporters with flags and signs who honked their car horns in solidarity with the ex-president. He again said the prosecution is a “witch hunt” inspired by Biden.

Some of Thursday’s arguments centered on the 1978 statute known as the Presidential Records Act. The law requires presidential documents to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration, though former presidents may retain notes and papers created for purely personal reasons.

His lawyers say the act entitled him to designate as personal property the records he took with him to Mar-a-Lago in Florida and that he was free to do with the documents as he pleased.

“He had original classification authority,” said defense lawyer Todd Blanche. “He had the authority to do whatever he thought was appropriate with his records.”

Prosecutors countered that those records were clearly presidential, not personal, and included top-secret information and documents related to nuclear programs and the military capabilities of the U.S. and foreign countries.

They argued that the presidential records statute was never meant to permit presidents to retain classified and top-secret documents, like those kept at Mar-a-Lago—although a previous case involving Clinton said otherwise.

“The documents charged in the indictment are not personal records, period. They are not,” Harbach said. “They are nowhere close to it under the definition of the Presidential Records Act.”

Cannon seemed disinclined to throw out the case on those grounds.

“It’s difficult to see how this gets you to the dismissal of an indictment,” she told a Trump lawyer.

Trump’s lawyers separately challenged as overly vague a statute that makes it a crime to have unauthorized retention of national defense information, a charge that forms the basis of 32 of the 40 felony counts against Trump in the case.

Defense lawyer Emil Bove said ambiguity in the statute permits what he called “selective” enforcement by the Justice Department, leading to Trump being charged but enabling others to avoid prosecution.

Bove suggested the recent report by Hur that criticized Biden’s handling of classified information did not recommend charges proved his point about the lack of clarity.

When a law is unclear, Bove told Cannon, “The court’s obligation is to strike the statute and say ‘Congress, get it right.’”

Jay Bratt, another prosecutor with Smith’s team, disputed that there was anything unclear about the law, and Cannon pointedly noted that striking down a statute would be “quite an extraordinary step.”

In her subsequent ruling rejecting the defense request, she cited “still-fluctuating definitions of statutory terms/phrases” along with “disputed factual issues” that could be decided by a jury.

Cannon has suggested in the past that she sees Trump’s status as a former president as distinguishing him from others who have held onto classified records.

After the Trump team sued the Justice Department in 2022 to get his records back, Cannon appointed a special master to conduct an independent review of the documents taken during the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search. That appointment was later overturned by a federal appeals court.

On Thursday, she wrestled with the unprecedented nature of the case, noted that no former president had ever faced criminal jeopardy for mishandling classified information.

But, Bratt responded, “there was never a situation remotely similar to this one.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press