Trump hints at kitchen-sink defense in Mar-a-Lago case, including immunity claim

An argument for presidential immunity in the Mar-a-Lago case would be an uphill battle after three appeals judges rejected similar requests in the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

(CN) – Donald Trump's defense attorneys have asked to delay proceedings in the Mar-a-Lago case as they prepare a barrage of motions seeking to dismiss the charges, including another request for presidential immunity.

The attorneys said they expect to file motions before the Feb. 22 deadline that address “presidential immunity, the Presidential Records Act, President Trump's security clearances, the indeterminacy doctrine, undue pre-indictment delays,” among other issues and selective and vindictive prosecution.”

The filing late Tuesday shows that Trump tried to delay his fight with prosecutors before the May 20 trial date. Then the former president is accused of hoarding classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida, resort and conspiring with two employees to thwart their return to federal custody.

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith has charged Trump with 40 crimes, mostly violations of the Espionage Act related to the mishandling of national security documents. His associates Carlos De Oliveira and Walt Nauta are charged with obstruction.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Trump's lawyers, Todd Blanche of New York City and Christopher Kise of Continental PLLC in Florida, asked U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon on Tuesday for more time to file discovery motions in the case. They said they needed time to review newly submitted discovery and see if there was further evidence before deciding on which applications to submit.

This was just the latest request for a delay, as defense attorneys pursued a strategy of delaying the trial until after the November election. If Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, retakes the White House, he could use his executive power to dismiss the case.

An argument for presidential immunity in the Mar-a-Lago case would be an uphill battle after three appeals judges rejected similar requests in the District of Columbia, where the former president is battling allegations that he tried to retain power after he had lost the 2020 elections.

The justices said in a 57-page opinion Tuesday that the court could not accept “that the office of president places its former occupants above the law for all time thereafter.”

Defense attorneys have pointed to other possible defenses in previous filings.

In a motion filed in January, the lawyers requested communications between prosecutors and the Biden administration that they said could reveal political motivation for the prosecution. They said in the same filing that after Trump left office, he retained a “Q” clearance from the Department of Energy, which they said would allow him to store top-secret material at Mar-a-Lago.

Federal prosecutors responded last week that the defense had painted an “inaccurate” and “distorted picture of events” in its motion by cherry-picking exhibits and selectively quoting from documents.

The “vague doctrine” refers to a constitutional rule that requires criminal law to explicitly determine what conduct is punishable. Otherwise the crime is “invalid due to lack of clarity”.

The Espionage Act of 1917 prohibits the unlawful possession or retention of secret documents and the unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to persons not authorized to receive such documents.

The law has been challenged in court several times since its passage. In 1941, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gorin v. United States that the vagueness of the Espionage Act did not violate the rights of a naval intelligence officer accused of selling classified information to a Soviet spy.

Arguments for delaying arraignment refer to prosecutors' efforts to unnecessarily delay arraignment, whether through gross negligence or malicious intent, in order to impair a person's ability to present a convincing defense.

A closed hearing on access to classified materials in the case is scheduled to begin on Monday.

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