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A pretrial hearing in the Trump classified documents case is set for today

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Former President Trump is back in court today. A grand jury indicted him for taking classified documents when he left the White House and repeatedly refusing to return them.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, Trump has been in court many times in his life. One of his strategies is delay, and his lawyers have asked to postpone this trial. What's different this time is the election calendar. He is running for president again, which means he is running to oversee the Justice Department. His former attorney general, William Barr, spoke with NPR on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

WILLIAM BARR: If Trump wins the primaries and is the nominee, which I do not think he will be, but if he is and then if he gets elected, my assumption is the case would be dropped or he would have the case dropped. I mean, it will be a mess. It'll be a mess.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the case. Carrie, so what specifically is Trump saying about justifying a delay?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Trump is asking this judge he appointed to the bench, Aileen Cannon, to basically put off the trial until after the election because he says jury selection is going to be very difficult. And he says the legal issues here in this case are challenging. Trump is running for the White House. He says he's got a busy schedule between now and next November, when he's going to be campaigning and traveling a lot around the country.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Jack Smith, a special counsel investigating Trump - what did he have to say?

JOHNSON: Yeah, the special counsel says there is no basis for postponing this trial. Jack Smith wants to select a jury this December. He says some of Trump's legal arguments are baseless and frivolous, this isn't a difficult case and that lots of defendants have busy jobs with travel, and they don't get special treatment from the courts. You know, Trump has had lots of legal trouble. He often goes all the way to the Supreme Court to try to get his way. And what's left unsaid in these court papers is that putting off this trial until after the election could threaten the whole case itself. If Trump wins, he could direct his attorney general to drop the indictment or even try to pardon himself in 2025.

MARTÍNEZ: The FBI found classified documents in a bathroom, a ballroom, a storage room, all at Trump's resort, Mar-a-Lago. Will we see any of those papers in the course of this case?

JOHNSON: That's not clear at this stage. We're going to learn more in the coming weeks. What's happening now is that lawyers for Trump and his valet, Walt Nauta, are getting security clearances to be able to look at some of these documents. They've signaled in court filings they may challenge whether some of the materials should actually be considered classified. And they've also signaled there should be no secret evidence in the case, no secrets from the jury. Defense lawyers are not giving any ground here. They apparently balked at a protective order.

The Justice Department tried to file yesterday to prevent classified documents it's giving to the defense from being shared, including with the defendants themselves. That order is pretty typical, according to former prosecutors. It's basically trying to make sure no one releases classified information they get in the course of all this trial preparation, including the defendants. And if they do, those people could be subject to further prosecution and contempt charges.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned Aileen Cannon. That's the judge that Trump appointed, the judge in this case. How is she approaching the job so far?

JOHNSON: Judge Cannon received a lot of criticism last year when she carved out an exemption for the former president to challenge a lawfully executed search warrant. And she was overruled by a very conservative appeals court, which included Trump appointees. Since then, she's proceeded pretty conventionally. A lot of people are watching her next moves. The Justice Department has not moved to recuse her based on alleged appearance of impartiality issues. And right now, I do not expect that to happen.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks for the info.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. 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.