Cannon refuses to dismiss Trump Espionage Act indictment


Left: Special Counsel Jack Smith. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)/Center: In this image from video provided by the U.S. Senate, Aileen M. Cannon speaks remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight nomination hearing to be U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on July 29, 2020./Right: Donald Trump speaks with supporters at the Westside Conservative Breakfast, June 1, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Left: Special Counsel Jack Smith. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File); Center: Judge Aileen M. Cannon (U.S. Senate); Right: Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File).

A federal judge late Thursday declined to dismiss former President Donald Trump’s charges in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case.

The terse, two-page order by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon rejects arguments by the 45th president’s attorneys that the first 32 counts in the superseding indictment are “constitutionally vague.”

“Although the Motion raises various arguments warranting serious consideration, the Court ultimately determines, following lengthy oral argument, that resolution of the overall question presented depends too greatly on contested instructional questions about still-fluctuating definitions of statutory terms/phrases as charged, along with at least some disputed factual issues as raised in the Motion,” Cannon wrote.

In her order, the judge found it premature to decide whether a series of statutory terms disputed by Trump “in these circumstances yields unsalvageable vagueness despite the asserted judicial glosses.”

In their February motion to dismiss on vagueness, defense lawyers argued 18 USC § 793(e) — the Espionage Act statute, which forms the basis of the first 32 counts in special counsel Jack Smith’s revised indictment — has long been considered legally problematic, resulting in various courts that have “endeavored to ‘save’ the statute.”

Trump claims three phrases are vague: (1) “unauthorized possession,” (2) “relating to the national defense,” and (3) “entitled to receive it.”

Cannon’s ruling suggests she is open to allowing the defense to continue raising claims that at least some terms in the Espionage Act have been unconstitutionally enlarged by other courts to encapsulate benign conduct. Those claims, however, cannot form the basis for dismissing the entire indictment.

During oral arguments by the state and defense on the motion that took up several hours earlier on Thursday, Cannon suggested the issue would be more appropriate for a jury to hear and decide.

As Law&Crime previously reported, the Trump-appointed judge also expressed some direct misgivings about arguments advanced by the defense in service of making the Espionage Act charges disappear.

“It’s hard to say that provision itself is unconstitutionally vague,” Cannon reportedly said.

Trump’s attorneys have essayed arguments — in various motions and during Thursday’s hearing — that the disputed statutory terms are historically rife with differing definitions, lacking in clarity, previously applied in circumstances entirely unlike his case, unnecessarily broadened into unfair catch-alls by activist judges, or simply not applicable to what Trump did because of a separate statute authorizing his behavior.

The government has ridiculed the defense’s claims as “unfounded.”

In her order, the court denied Trump’s arguments without prejudice and noted they could be raised again “as appropriate in connection with jury-instruction briefing and/or other appropriate motions.”


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