A federal investigation into Donald Trump’s withholding of top secret documents months after he left the White House was expected to lead to charges in Washington DC.
But the damning 37-count indictment, with more than two dozen counts of unlawfully withholding classified documents under the Espionage Act, was filed June 8 in court district of Florida, his principal residence and the location of his famous Mar-a-Lago. resort property, where mounds of boxes containing sensitive government documents were discovered by federal law enforcement.
Photographs in an unsealed indictment released June 9 showed stacks of them on a ballroom stage and a gold bathroom with a chandelier. Interviews with witnesses and transcripts of conversations in the sweeping indictment appear to show a depth of coordination between Mr. Trump, his aides and his attorneys in getting them to the property and later concealing them from security forces. order.
So it makes sense that prosecutors would indict him and his associate Walt Nauta in Florida. But determining the location of a case against the former president, or any defendants, is not necessarily straightforward.
“It could really make a huge difference. The group of jurors is different. Judges are different,” according to former Assistant US Attorney Andrew Weissmann, speaking to MSNBC.
“Also, DC is a place where the court is very used to dealing with classified information. There is expertise there. So in terms of speed, for this case to go to trial, location matters,” he added.
The former Republican president has also repeatedly dismissed accusations and investigations against him in multiple jurisdictions as a political ‘witch hunt’, pointing to Democratic majorities in New York – where he was found guilty of sex abuse , hit with a $250 million lawsuit from the state’s attorney general and criminally charged with more than 30 counts of falsifying business records — and from Atlanta, where his efforts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election are expected to result in charges this summer.
Mr Trump won Florida State in 2016 and 2020, although he lost Miami-Dade County, where he faces federal indictment.
A form attached to the indictment also said the case had been filed in the West Palm Beach court division, suggesting that a group of potential jurors could be drawn from there.
Voters in Palm Beach County reliably voted for Democratic presidential candidates, but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won 51% of the county’s vote last year.
Mr DeSantis – Mr Trump’s rival for the Republican nomination for president in 2024 – said in a statement after the indictment was announced that he “will hold the [US Department of Justice]excise political bias and end militarization once and for all,” but stopped short of saying he would do anything to intervene.
“The fact that this is billed in Florida is extremely important,” according to CNN legal analyst Elie Honig. “Legally, I think it’s the right decision to [the Justice Department]because they will avoid a complicated question about the place.
Subpoenas may have been issued from Washington DC, but courts have confirmed that the location must be tied to where the unlawful conduct was committed.
Florida may ultimately be “less advantageous” to federal prosecutors and the Justice Department in a case involving classified documents and the aftermath of a presidential administration, usually in the courts of Washington, but the state is a “legally less risky place at this stage”. time,” according to Mr. Weissmann and Ryan Goodman.
“Whatever legal and factual arguments might support the location in Washington D.C., the consequences of a miscalculation are an unknown variable that will advise in favor of caution on the part of the [Justice Department],” they wrote.
Prosecutors also probably don’t want to “risk spending the first year fighting for location,” former federal prosecutor Randall D Eliason said. The Washington Post.
For now, Mr Trump’s case will be handled by a federal judge he appointed to the bench in 2020 – and who has already issued controversial rulings in the inquiry that were overturned by an appeals court .
US District Judge Aileen Cannon is due to preside over her trial in federal court in Miami.
Last year, Judge Cannon appointed a “special master” to review documents seized by federal law enforcement and barred the FBI from using those documents in the investigation until completed a review, freezing the Justice Department’s investigation.
That order was ultimately overturned entirely by a three-judge federal appeals court panel, which strongly criticized the judge’s actions and pointed out that a court cannot simply “write a rule allowing any subject to ‘a search warrant to block government investigations after the warrant is executed’ or ‘write a rule that only allows former presidents to do so’.
If she does not recuse herself from the case and remains a trial judge, she could play a potentially critical role in the development of the case, including whether to hold a trial before or after the primary election. presidential and general elections in 2024, as Mr. Trump seeks the Republican presidential nomination.
He is already due to return to Manhattan Criminal Court on March 25 – days after voting begins in the primary states. A trial in a fraud lawsuit targeting Mr. Trump, his adult children and his business entities is set to begin in October.