The Florida federal judge overseeing the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice case against former president Donald Trump has rejected the disgraced ex-president’s bid to delay his trial until after the 2024 election.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon on Friday issued an order granting the government’s request to set a speedy trial date and schedule for pretrial motions, with a start date of 20 May 2024.

Prosecutors with the office of Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith had asked for her to set a December 2023 trial date, four months after the August date she’d put on the court’s calendar shortly after Mr Trump and his co-defendant Walt Nauta first appeared in a Miami courtroom to answer the 38-count indictment charging the ex-president with unlawfully retaining national defence information, and charging both him and Mr Nauta with conspiracy and obstruction of justice offences.

Attorneys for the ex-president and his longtime aide had argued in court documents that there was “most assuredly no reason for any expedited trial” and asked Judge Cannon to delay setting a trial date to give their legal team time to review evidence that they are being provided by the government and formulate pre-trial motions.

The defendants’ attorneys had also argued that it would be impossible for Mr Trump and Mr Nauta to receive a fair trial before the election because of the massive amount of publicity surrounding the case, and because — in their view — it would not be possible to select an impartial jury during a presidential election.

But at a hearing before Judge Cannon on Tuesday, prosecutors urged her to reject any argument that Mr Trump should be treated any differently from another criminal defendant because he is a former president or a presidential candidate.

Assistant Special Counsel David Harbach told the judge that under relevant US law, it was Mr Trump who bore the burden of justifying any deviation from the principle which holds that the public interest is best served by holding a speedy trial for the defendants.

Mr Harbach said it was the government’s view that Mr Trump “should be treated like anybody else,” calling the need to give him equal treatment compared to ordinary Americans “a fundamental tenet of the republic”.

“Mr. Trump is not the president. He is a private citizen who has been indicted by a lawfully empaneled grand jury in this district, and his case should be governed by the Constitution, the United States Code, and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, just like anyone else’s,” he said.

The veteran federal prosecutor further argued that Mr Trump’s attorneys’ rationale for delaying a trial on grounds that an impartial jury can’t be selected during an election is not supported by relevant case law, and stressed that the twice-impeached, twice-indicted ex-president would remain a controversial figure long after Americans go to the polls in November 2024.

“The division of opinion in our country over Mr. Trump I think it’s fair to say long predated his indictment and will long post date the election, however it turns out,” he said.

He added that although there was “no question” that Mr Trump’s status as a public figure would necessitate a “thorough and careful” process for vetting potential jurors, the government’s view is that there is “no reason to believe” that “the situation, vis-a-vis public differences about Mr Trump,” would be any better post-election that at the present time.

The selection of a May 2024 trial date is a significant early win for Mr Smith, who is also currently supervising a separate grand jury in Washington which is investigating Mr Trump’s efforts to remain in office despite having lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

During their court appearance on Tuesday, Mr Trump’s lawyers had also argued that their client’s Sunday receipt of a target letter stating that Mr Smith could soon ask the grand jury to issue yet another indictment of the ex-president also necessitated an indefinite delay because of the demands on his schedule from both his presidential campaign and the multiple criminal and civil cases against him in both New York State court and various federal courts.

But Judge Cannon, who was nominated to the bench by Mr Trump, rejected those arguments, quelling fears that she would be overly accommodating to the ex-president.

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