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Presidential Records Act wont shield Trump in documents case, judge says

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A judge appointed by former President Donald Trump made it clear this week that the Presidential Records Act won’t protect Trump from prosecution in a case where the former president is accused of mishandling classified documents.

Judge Aileen Cannon denied Trump’s bid to dismiss the charges based on the Presidential Records Act. The judge also slapped down a request from special counsel Jack Smith’s team of federal prosecutors for finalized jury instructions as “unprecedented and unjust.”

Cannon said the charges stand on their own and follow the statutory language of the criminal code. Furthermore, she wrote that “the Presidential Records Act does not provide a pre-trial basis to dismiss.”

Trump had sought to get the charges punted based on the Presidential Records Act, which his defense attorneys have argued protects him from criminal charges.

Cannon also curtly told Smith and his team to calm down after they had threatened to appeal earlier this week. Prosecutors had asked the judge to rule on several key issues that could hurt their case before going to trial. They said both legal scenarios presented in Cannon’s earlier order “rest on an unstated and fundamentally flawed legal premise.”

Cannon wasn’t having it.

“To the extent the Special Counsel demands an anticipatory finalization of jury instructions prior to trial, prior to a charge conference, and prior to the presentation of trial defenses and evidence, the Court declines that demand as unprecedented and unjust,” she wrote. “The Court’s Order soliciting preliminary draft instructions on certain counts should not be misconstrued as declaring a final definition on any essential element or asserted defense in this case. Nor should it be interpreted as anything other than what it was: a genuine attempt, in the context of the upcoming trial, to better understand the parties’ competing positions and the questions to be submitted to the jury in this complex case of first impression.”

Cannon made clear that prosecutors could appeal at any time.

“As always, any party remains free to avail itself of whatever appellate options it sees fit to invoke, as permitted by law,” she wrote.

Prosecutors had previously said they need clarification on Cannon’s position so they can appeal if needed. They asked the judge to decide before any trial if the Presidential Records Act “has an impact on the element of unauthorized possession” of classified documents.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 felony counts that allege he kept sensitive military documents, shared them with people who didn’t have security clearance and tried to get around the government’s attempts to get them back.