Documents Case Judge Refused Advice From Senior Jurists To Step Aside

Aileen Cannon

Former President Donald Trump, left, and Judge Aileen Cannon

Aileen Cannon

Former President Donald Trump's classified documents case in the Southern District of Florida could have been overseen by a more experienced and less partisan judge, but U.S District Judge Aileen Cannon refused to let a more competent jurist take the case, according to a new report.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Judge Cannon — who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump in 2020 — has been clinging to the Mar-a-Lago case despite calls from at least two federal judges to step aside. Those judges were reportedly concerned about Cannon's lack of criminal trial experience, the case involving extremely sensitive classified documents and the fact that Cannon's courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida didn't have a Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility (also known as a SCIF) inside to safely store and review classified documents.

The Times cited an anonymous source who confirmed that two judges, including U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga (who was appointed to her position by former President George W. Bush in 2003), asked Cannon to hand off the case to a more experienced judge. Altonaga and the other judge, who was not named in the report, suggested that the federal courthouse in Miami, which is just a two-hour drive from Fort Pierce, would be better suited for the case since it already had a SCIF. However, Cannon still refused to let go, forcing taxpayers to front the cost of building a SCIF in Fort Pierce.

In a Thursday segment on MSNBC, legal analyst Lisa Rubin opined that the Times' report on Judge Cannon rebuffing calls from her colleagues to pass the case to a more experienced jurist was highly unusual and suggested that others on the federal bench shared Americans' concerns about Cannon being partial to the former president.

"[Judge Altonaga] mentioned what Judge Cannon's experience had been after the search [of Mar-a-Lago]," Rubin said, noting that Cannon's decision to appoint a special master to review the documents seized in the FBI's raid on Trump's home was overturned by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. "It was on that basis that Judge Altonaga said to her, 'you've already kind of had a rough go of this .. maybe it's time to let someone else handle this.'"

Rubin went on to say that the Times' unnamed source speaking to the leading national newspaper of record about judges' pleas to Cannon to step down from the case was "almost as big as the news itself."

"The very fact that somebody is sharing this information with the Times is what our colleague Nicolle Wallace, would call a 'break-glass situation,'" Rubin said. "It is somebody who is literally saying to the American public, all of those concerns that you are hearing about Judge Cannon being out of her depth, in the tank for Donald Trump, or both, those are concerns that were shared by at least two of her colleagues on the bench and at least one very, very seasoned judge, the chief judge of the district, which depending on the district, is a position given by seniority."

Cannon has indefinitely postponed the classified documents trial, which was initially scheduled for May 20, 2024. She cited a backlog of pre-trial motions she has yet to rule on as the reason for delay, and said that it could take until late July for her to finish her work in the pre-trial process.

The Mar-a-Lago case is considered the strongest of the two federal cases against the former president, due to the wealth of evidence the DOJ has. Trump is facing 37 felony counts in the case, which include charges of willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, scheme to conceal and making false statements.

Click here to read the Times' full report (subscription required). And watch Lisa Rubin's segment below, or by clicking this link.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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