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Following Trump's trials: classified documents and hush-money cases


It's time for Trump's Trials...


DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: He actually just stormed out of the courtroom.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

DETROW: ...Our weekly take on all of the legal challenges former President Trump is facing, all while running for president again. Yesterday, a New York jury ordered Trump to pay the writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defamation. This is the second time that Trump has been ordered to pay Carroll. Last year, a different jury ordered him to pay her $5 million for a separate instance of defamation in a case where the jury also found that Trump sexually abused Carroll.

You can hear more about yesterday's verdict on our companion podcast, Trump's Trials. But now we are going to focus on two of the criminal cases against Trump that we've not talked a lot about recently. That's the classified documents case out of Florida, where Trump is facing 40 charges, including violating the Espionage Act. And this case centers around Trump allegedly taking classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago club slash residence, and then allegedly refusing to return them to the government. We'll also check in on the hush money case out of New York, where Trump is facing 34 state-level counts, all surrounding payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. These payments centered around the 2016 election and Trump's attempts to hide the affair that he had with Daniels.

To break all of this down, I am joined by justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.


DETROW: So let's start with Florida, the classified documents case, again, all about Trump taking classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. Since this happened after he left office, presidential immunity, which we should start off with, is a non-issue, right?

JOHNSON: Mostly, although Trump might argue that some of this packing was done while he was still in the White House. That's to be determined. However, a lot of the conduct, including his refusal to honor the Justice Department's increasingly insistent request to return these materials, were post-White House for Donald Trump for sure.

DETROW: And this has been at times a pretty dramatic case. This was the case where the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago, which really was a big moment of, wow, this is some serious stuff happening here. Remind us what the key issues are and what we need to remember about it, since, again, it's kind of been on the back burner lately.

JOHNSON: Sure. The Justice Department says that Trump had in his possession at Mar-A-Lago in really unsecured rooms like a ballroom and a bathroom and all kinds of other places in this resort, which is crawling with members of the public and guests and members, materials as sensitive as nuclear secrets and war plans. These are some of the highest level security documents the United States owns, and Donald Trump doesn't own them, the Justice Department says, the government does. And when the FBI asked repeatedly for the return of these materials, Trump and his lawyers gave some of them back. But finally, when the FBI raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, it found a bunch of additional documents, including some in a desk drawer along with his personal passport.

DETROW: And, of course, you mentioned the picture of the documents in the bathroom, which was this instantly iconic image from one of the court filings.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. And you know, he's standing trial with two people, one Walt Nauta, his valet, who's accompanied him all over the place on the campaign trail and even to other court hearings, And the second, Carlos De Oliveira. But interestingly here, the Justice Department does have a cooperator, another person who worked at Mar-a-Lago who is apparently testifying about the refusal of Trump and others to give those papers back.

DETROW: What do we need to know about what's been happening in this case in recent weeks?

JOHNSON: All that's been happening in the court docket but none of it is super interesting, I'm afraid to say. What's happening here is a huge push and pull over classified information. Donald Trump wants access to all this information. The Justice Department doesn't want to give him all the classified information. And the other point of debate is, how much of the information will a jury potentially ever be able to see? This is a huge issue in all these national security cases. Defendants want to push the limits and try to prod the Justice Department into making material public that the intelligence community does not want to be made public. And ultimately, the decider here is going to be Judge Aileen Cannon. And she's set a series of briefings back-and-forth on this. And she's going to have a hearing in the case, I believe, March 1.

DETROW: Any sense of the timing of when this trial could be?

JOHNSON: We don't know. It's supposed to start May 20, but most everybody involved in the case on either side thinks that's going to slip because of all these fights about the classified material.

DETROW: So we don't know.

JOHNSON: We don't know.

DETROW: We don't know. All right. Let's move to New York, where Trump is accused of falsifying business records to pay off adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about their affair. This is the first of all of these charges. This was the moment when a former president was charged with crimes for the very first time. Carrie, is there anything new in this case?

JOHNSON: Yeah. These are felony violations but paperwork violations. If Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, is ultimately convicted, he's unlikely to face any jail time. Let's just say that straight out. And no major new developments here. But we do expect a hearing in mid-February, February 15, on whether this trial is going to happen in March or whether it's going to slip. And we know the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has said, hey, I'm happy to go second or third. If one of these Justice Department special counsel cases goes first, that's cool. But we don't know for a fact that that trial is going to move yet.

DETROW: And as Bragg has said, that there's been a lot of political chatter of whether it politically makes sense for those who would like to see Trump convicted of some of these crimes, to not have the seemingly more low-level hush money case go first, opposed to these big consequential cases about overturning an election.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Allegedly paying somebody off in the weeks before the 2016 election is not the same magnitude as fomenting violence at the United States Capitol. We can just put it that way.

DETROW: That's that's an accurate statement. I think you kind of already answered this question, but any general sense of timing for this trial?

JOHNSON: This might be the case to go first, but we don't know.

DETROW: And in the meantime, we're going to have a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in just a couple weeks on yet another key question, whether or not Colorado has the right to kick Trump off the ballot because of the 14th Amendment, which bars insurrectionists from holding federal office.

NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks so much.

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.