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Trump's classified documents trial in Florida is delayed indefinitely

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The odds are growing increasingly likely that former President Donald Trump's New York hush money trial, underway right now, will be the only one of Trump's criminal trials to take place before this fall's election. While the focus was on New York and Stormy Daniels' graphic testimony this week, the federal judge presiding over Trump's classified documents case in Florida issued a major ruling.

Judge Aileen Cannon indefinitely delayed the trial, which centers on the 40 criminal counts for allegedly mishandling classified documents and resisting the federal government's attempts to reclaim them. And then in Georgia, an appeals court agreed to take up a Trump appeal challenging a judge's decision allowing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to stay on the criminal case that he is facing there. With us now to discuss what it all means is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So we'll get to Florida in a moment, but let's start with today's news from Georgia. Again, Trump and others are facing charges they are tied to their alleged conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election. And remember that the district attorney, Fani Willis, was allowed to stay on the case despite revelations that she had a relationship with the outside counsel leading it. Now an appeals court is taking up that decision. Carrie, what does this mean for Willis and for the Georgia case as a whole, which Willis had hoped would go to trial in August?

JOHNSON: This is a legal victory, another legal victory for Donald Trump in his quest to delay. The idea that the appeals court in Georgia has agreed to hear whether Willis should stay on the case is a significant one. It could take months to unfold, leaving the idea of a trial in Fulton County, Ga., this year for the former president more and more unlikely.

DETROW: Let's go south to Florida now and talk about the federal case there, which is officially in an indefinite delay. But Carrie, given how slowly everything has moved in this case since the beginning, does this news surprise you?

JOHNSON: No surprise at all. I thought it was always going to be difficult to get a trial in part because of the way Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by former President Trump, has been handling it. You know, Judge Cannon has kept this May 20 trial date on the schedule even though she's failed to decide a number of critical issues in this case. The special counsel, Jack Smith, declined comment on the idea that the trial is now postponed indefinitely, but we know from some of his filings in court that he's disagreed with the way this judge has handled matters and how slowly she has moved on them.

DETROW: And I want to come back to that in a moment, but let's talk a little bit more about Judge Cannon because, on one hand, this is a case involving classified documents. These types of cases really do take a long time on the front-end because a lot of the key decisions have to do with how to handle those documents, what to admit, what to not admit. But when Judge Cannon is writing about trying to get through a backlog of pretrial motions, is it fair to say that a lot of that backlog is because of the way she has approached this case herself?

JOHNSON: It's absolutely fair to say that. She's a relatively new judge. She hasn't had a lot of experience with criminal matters, let alone criminal matters involving classified information. But that being said, Scott, she's had a number of these issues teed up as of months ago, as of February and March, and she hasn't decided them. Some people in the legal world and outside the legal world fear that she may be biased in favor of Donald Trump and making decisions on that basis, but there's no evidence in the public record to support that.

DETROW: There had been chatter about whether Special Counsel Jack Smith would appeal to the 11th Circuit over some of the moves Cannon has made. Is there anything that Smith can do in this moment here to try and fight this delay?

JOHNSON: You know, Scott, what I had been hearing is that the Justice Department was taking a cautious and careful approach to this. They might have earlier sought to bounce Judge Cannon from this case, but they haven't taken that step. And they basically were waiting for her to decide some critical issues before they figured out whether they did want to seek an appeal, but she hasn't decided many of those critical issues. And so in kind of a canny way, she's tied the government's hands even if they did want to take additional steps against her. At this point, there's no sign the Justice Department is going to try to go over her head at this point, though.

DETROW: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.