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Jack Smith wants Judge Cannon to stop Trump from putting law enforcement at risk

The Trump appointee is in no hurry to resolve the issue in court and seems inclined to rule against the special counsel.

When we last checked in on the Donald Trump classified documents saga, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon had rejected special counsel Jack Smith’s motion to bar the defendant from making statements endangering law enforcement, stemming from Trump’s false suggestion that agents were complicit in a plot to assassinate him. Importantly, Cannon only rejected the motion on procedural grounds, allowing Smith to try again.

He did so Friday, reiterating the government’s stance that “Trump’s repeated mischaracterization of these facts in widely distributed messages as an attempt to kill him, his family, and Secret Service agents has endangered law enforcement officers involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case and threatened the integrity of these proceedings.”

Smith’s bid to protect the proceedings in the face of menacing Trump statements calls to mind the gag order in the recently concluded New York trial. There, Judge Juan Merchan imposed the order and found Trump in contempt 10 times for violating it, with the integrity of those proceedings in mind.

Yet, as we’ve seen in their respective handling of Trump’s criminal cases, Cannon is no Merchan. Indeed, though the Trump appointee’s prior rejection of Smith’s motion was procedural, the tone of her rejection, coupled with her handling of the case generally, suggests she’ll ultimately rule for Trump on the merits. On that note, the judge isn’t even making his lawyers respond to Smith’s motion until June 14, with Smith’s reply due June 21. True to form, Cannon isn’t in a rush.

To recap the timeline, Smith filed his initial motion May 24, which the judge (temporarily) rejected May 28 for what she deemed the government’s failure to properly confer with defense counsel in connection with the filing. Smith’s latest motion notes proper conferral as ordered. Now, the written litigation in this matter — which is just a tiny fraction of the pending issues in the case that still lacks a trial date — isn’t set to conclude until nearly a month after the initial filing.  

And to answer the naturally arising question, Cannon’s slow-walking of litigation to the routine benefit of the presumptive GOP nominee who appointed her to the bench isn’t something that, on its own, would warrant removing her from the case. That’s probably why Smith hasn’t sought to do so yet. Trial judges have vast discretion over their dockets.

We’ll see if Smith appeals Cannon’s ultimate ruling on this issue and whether he seeks a new judge in connection with any appeal he takes. But with the schedule she set, we won’t even know how Cannon rules until later this month, at least.  

Jordan Rubin, MSNBC, June 3, 2024

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