Now that Donald Trump’s co-defendant, Walt Nauta, has finally been arraigned, the case can get moving, right?
Not so fast, if the Trump aide’s lawyers have anything to say about it.
The reasons cited in the defense motion aren’t great. So it provides an early test of how Judge Aileen Cannon will handle the all-important timing aspect in the former president’s federal prosecution, as he runs for the White House again in 2024. If Trump or another Republican wins and takes control of the government that’s prosecuting him, the case could be crushed.
Trump and Nauta have both pleaded not guilty in the case. Trump is charged with violating the Espionage Act for unlawfully keeping classified documents, while Trump and Nauta are each charged with covering up the former president’s alleged crimes.
The July 14 conference was set weeks ago, but, according to the defense motion, Nauta couldn’t object to the date until he obtained a lawyer who is admitted to practice in the Southern District of Florida, where he and Trump are charged. That happened last week, when Florida lawyer Sasha Dadan entered the case, in addition to Nauta’s existing lawyer, Stanley Woodward. Both lawyers signed Monday’s defense motion.
Among other things, the motion said Woodward has another trial in Washington, D.C., and can’t make Friday’s classified conference in Florida. It also said Dadan is too new to handle the conference, “barely a week after she has been retained by Mr. Nauta.”
And though it hardly needed to be said, the motion conveyed that “Donald J. Trump does not oppose” this requested delay.
Unsurprisingly, special counsel Jack Smith’s team opposes a delay. Here’s how the Justice Department summed up its response Monday:
Nauta does not indicate when Mr. Woodward would be available to appear at such a conference. Nor does he explain why his other counsel of record, Sasha Dadan, is not capable of handling the proceeding. An indefinite continuance is unnecessary, will inject additional delay in this case, and is contrary to the public interest.
And though the case is in its early stages, it’s already a little chippy between the parties. In a footnote Monday, the government suggested Woodward was untruthful or, at least, careless.
While the defense said Woodward had opposed the government’s previously filed conference motion, DOJ wrote Monday that it’s “possible that there is a word missing in Nauta’s filing — ‘not.’” That is, federal prosecutors claimed in their response Monday that, before filing their previous conference motion, “government counsel conferred with Mr. Woodward by phone” and, using bold for emphasis, claimed that Nauta’s lawyer had “stated that he did not oppose the motion.”
The Justice Department also noted that Woodward doesn’t need a security clearance to participate in the conference, despite the defense team’s attempt to use his lack of a clearance as a justification for a delay. The DOJ noted that Woodward hadn’t even filled out a necessary form to get that clearance — the implications being that lacking a clearance is no reason for delay and that any delay in getting a clearance is Woodward’s fault anyway.
Further, Smith’s team called the upcoming conference “a crucial step in this prosecution.”
That’s because, the government wrote, the conference consists not only of “elucidating the procedures the Court and the parties will follow in conducting classified discovery, litigating certain pre-trial motions, and using classified information at trial,” but also because it “will affect other dates the Court sets.”
Relatedly, Nauta’s motion to delay the conference came as the defense response to Smith’s request for a December trial start date was also due Monday, underscoring how these seemingly mundane scheduling matters can affect the ultimate trial date in a case in which timing is more important than usual.
How Cannon handles these delicate scheduling matters will be critical to how the case progresses and when, if ever, it’s tried.