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Trump's lawyers ask judge to dismiss charges of mishandling classified documents

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We've been hearing a lot about Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York for making hush-money payments. Well, while that one's on pause through the long weekend, lawyers for Trump and two co-defendants appeared in a Florida court today. In that case, the former president is charged with taking classified and top-secret material to Mar-a-Lago when he left the White House, then conspiring to hide those documents from federal investigators. NPR's Greg Allen is at the courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what happened in court today.

ALLEN: Well, defense attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to dismiss the charges against their clients. They say this case is politically motivated and that the prosecution is, quote, "selective and vindictive." Former President Trump wasn't here today, but - he skipped the session, but his two co-defendants were here. The court heard two motions, both filed by Trump's aide, Walt Nauta. Nauta is charged with moving boxes containing classified documents to different locations at Mar-a-Lago in an alleged attempt to hide them from federal investigators and then lying about it afterwards.

Nauta's attorney, Stanley Woodward, told the judge he believes his client is being prosecuted because he refused to cooperate with the government's case against his boss. When Nauta refused to be a witness against Trump, Woodward says prosecutors retaliated by, in his words, shoehorning him into the indictment of the former president. Judge Cannon, who's a Trump appointee, you know, and has been criticized for some rulings in favor of the defense seemed skeptical today. She said, isn't that a fairly standard way to try to get attorneys to convince a client to cooperate?

SHAPIRO: Running theme here across these trials, it sounds like there were some testy moments in the courtroom. Tell us about them.

ALLEN: Yes. Not nothing like we saw in New York, but much for us. There was a lot of attention devoted to a meeting in August of 2022 between prosecutor Jay Bratt and Stanley Woodward, who just came on as Nauta's attorney. Woodward said he was under consideration for a federal judicial appointment at the time, and that Bratt mentioned it at the meeting. Woodward says he believes it was intended to send him a message that he should convince his client to cooperate with the investigation or, in his words, it could mess up his potential judgeship. Prosecutor David Harbach, who was talking to the judge about this, called that description of the meeting a fantasy and that Bratt's passing comments were being taken out of context. He became agitated at one point when Judge Cannon pressed him on the issue, and she had to admonish him to calm down.

SHAPIRO: And tell us about the motion to dismiss that was argued today. What was that about?

ALLEN: Well, the motion was - involved all three co-defendants. Nauta's lawyer, Stanley Woodward, made a tactical argument, as he termed it, that focuses on how the indictment is worded. And he encouraged the judge to throw out several counts. One example were two counts in which Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, are charged with attempting to get the club's IT supervisor to delete video footage from surveillance cameras. The IT guy said he couldn't do it, and the footage wasn't deleted. But because of that, Woodward says no crime was committed. It was just a conversation, he said. It's not illegal to talk about something. Prosecutors say that was all part of the overall conspiracy to obstruct the government investigation and that these are matters, in any case, that the court should leave to the jury to decide. Judge Cannon didn't indicate on either the motions when she'd have a ruling today.

SHAPIRO: Can hear that siren there behind you. Let me ask about timing because the trial was supposed to have started this week. The judge indefinitely postponed the start date. Any idea of when it might actually get underway?

ALLEN: No. No sign of that at this point. There are, by my count, nearly a dozen motions filed by Trump's lawyers still pending before the court. The judge has also yet - has to have important hearings on how classified material will be handled. She says she's going to take up that issue in July, which makes it eight months behind schedule, and it's beginning to look less and less likely that the trial will begin before the presidential election. And, of course, if Trump wins, because it's a federal case, he'd have the power to shut down the Department of Justice case.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Fort Pierce, Fla. Thanks.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.