After immunity ruling, Trump asks for delay in secret documents case

Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump on Friday asked the judge overseeing his case involving classified documents to virtually halt proceedings while they determine whether Trump has immunity from charges under a landmark Supreme Court ruling this week.

On Monday, the Supreme Court granted Trump broad immunity from criminal prosecution for his official acts as president. The ruling came after months of legal wrangling over his other federal case — the one in Washington accusing him of plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

His lawyers are now trying to apply that ruling to the documents case. In a 10-page motion, they asked Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing the proceedings, to allow them to file additional briefs on immunity and to freeze nearly all pretrial activity until she resolves the issue.

“Resolving these threshold questions is necessary to minimize the negative consequences to the institution of the presidency resulting from this unconstitutional investigation and prosecution,” the lawyers wrote.

Trump’s charges in the documents case focus on actions that occurred after he left the White House. He is accused of illegally withholding classified national security information and obstructing government efforts to retrieve the information from his post-presidential home in Florida.

It is unclear whether Judge Cannon will be open to an argument that the Supreme Court ruling applies in the documents case. The court’s decision was based on the idea that a president should not be prosecuted for actions taken in connection with constitutional duties or broadly defined official acts.

Trump’s lawyers have already asked Judge Cannon to grant him immunity from the charges, arguing that he considered the confidential materials in question his personal property before leaving the White House, under a law known as the Presidential Records Act.

The lawyers said that decision was made in Trump’s official capacity as president and could not form the basis for a criminal charge under the Supreme Court ruling.

Trump’s attempt to freeze the case surrounding the classified documents is another example of his strategy of playing his various criminal cases off against each other in an attempt to delay each one as long as possible.

Most legal issues can only be appealed after a defendant is found guilty at trial. But immunity issues are different, allowing for an immediate appeal in the middle of a criminal prosecution. That’s because they revolve around whether the charges should have been filed in the first place.

Mr. Trump’s request for a similar freeze on the documents case is unusual for several reasons, including that he is not asking for the case to be put on hold for appeal. There is nothing to appeal, as Judge Cannon has not yet ruled on his request for immunity in the case.

Trump’s lawyers first raised the issue of Judge Cannon’s immunity in a motion filed in February, and their arguments were somewhat far-fetched.

Prosecutors in the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who is handling both federal cases against Trump, have ridiculed the idea that the Presidential Records Act would give Trump the authority to designate some of the nation’s most secret documents as his personal records.

Prosecutors also noted that the allegations in the charging documents relate almost entirely to things Trump did after he left the White House — when, of course, he could no longer serve in his official role as president.

Still, such leaps in logic haven’t stopped Trump’s lawyers from beefing up their immunity claims. They’ve asked Judge Cannon to freeze all work on the case except for motions and hearings on one issue: Smith’s attempt to bar Trump from making public comments that could endanger FBI agents working on the case.

As part of their request, Trump’s lawyers also asked Judge Cannon for permission to file additional documents on a separate legal issue: whether Smith was properly appointed to serve as special counsel.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling on immunity, one justice, Clarence Thomas, wrote a concurring opinion suggesting that Mr. Smith had been given his post without legal basis. Justice Thomas raised the issue even though none of his other colleagues raised it, and despite the fact that it had never been raised in the election interference case the court was ostensibly considering.

Judge Cannon, however, has shown a keen interest in the issue of Mr. Smith’s appointment. Last month, he held two days of unusual hearings in federal district court in Fort Pierce, Florida, to discuss whether there was a legal basis for appointing him and funding his office.

Judge Thomas’s concurrence was widely read by legal scholars as an invitation for Judge Cannon to move forward with the issue of Mr. Smith’s nomination. And that is what Mr. Trump’s lawyers have now asked her to do.

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