Sharp Disagreements Emerge in Donald Trump’s Classified-Document Case as Prosecutors and Defense Clash Over Jury Instructions

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Prosecutors and attorneys representing former President Donald Trump have presented their differing interpretations of key legal issues in the classified-document case. This comes in response to an unusual request by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon in Florida, who asked both sides to submit hypothetical jury instructions based on competing views of two laws that are central to the case.

The filings highlight the stark disagreements between the two parties. Special counsel Jack Smith strongly objected to the judge’s instructions, calling them based on a “fundamentally flawed legal premise.” Smith even warned that he may appeal if the judge rules against him.

Legal experts find it odd that Cannon is focused on jury instructions at this early stage, as a trial is not imminent and there are other pretrial decisions to be made. They also argue that the judge’s orders entertain distorted interpretations of laws put forth by Trump’s legal team and supporters.

The government, in its response, expressed frustration with the instructions and urged Cannon to quickly decide on key legal questions to avoid delaying the trial. They warned that relying on Trump’s interpretations of the laws would distort the proceedings.

Trump’s legal team argued that the assignment given by the judge aligns with their view that the prosecution is based on “official acts” taken by the former president during his term, rather than the illegal retention of documents.

Cannon asked the lawyers to draft jury instructions regarding the Presidential Records Act (PRA), which stipulates that presidential records must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of a presidency. One set of instructions focuses on the assumption that the PRA allows for presidential documents to be designated as personal, which is the argument put forth by Trump’s legal team. Another set assumes that the jury should be able to determine which documents are personal and which are presidential.

The government contends that it is the Espionage Act, not the PRA, that protects classified materials. Trump faces charges of violating the Espionage Act and obstruction related to illegally retaining classified documents after leaving office.

Both sides have warned of potential appeals depending on the judge’s decision. Prosecutors argued that the PRA should not be included in the jury instructions, emphasizing that it has no bearing on the Espionage Act charges.

In their proposed instructions, Trump’s legal team stressed his authority as president to determine the designation of the documents in question. They argue that his declassification decisions were valid and legally appropriate.

It remains uncertain when the trial will begin as Cannon has not yet ruled on a trial date. The judge’s order for jury instructions came after an in-person hearing on Trump’s motions to dismiss the case. One motion claimed that the PRA would allow Trump to declare highly classified documents as his personal property and keep them at Mar-a-Lago, while another argued that the Espionage Act was too vaguely worded for his indictment.

The clash over jury instructions highlights the fundamental legal disparities at play in the case against Trump. As both sides continue to present their arguments, the trial date remains uncertain and the judge’s rulings will greatly shape the proceedings.