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The latest on Trump's trials

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Felony violations of our national security laws.

TRUMP: We need one more indictment...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Criminal conspiracy.

TRUMP: ...To close out this election.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He actually just stormed out of the courtroom.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

MILES PARKS, HOST:

It's time for Trump's Trials, our weekly take on the multiple cases former President Donald Trump is facing, all while running for president. Last night, federal judges ruled that Trump cannot claim presidential immunity in pending civil and criminal cases stemming from the 2021 insurrection at the Capitol. That means the January 6 criminal case pending against Trump can proceed. It's scheduled to get underway in March. But we're going to dig in now to another pending Trump trial, the classified documents case in Florida, where a delay seems inevitable.

We're joined now by NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Miles.

PARKS: Also joining us is Melissa Murray. She's a law professor at NYU and co-author of the upcoming book "The Trump Indictments." Thanks for being here, Melissa.

MELISSA MURRAY: Thanks for having me.

PARKS: Melissa, I want to start by talking about the judge in Florida. Can you tell us a little bit about how long she's been a judge, her history as a judge and how that plays into this case?

MURRAY: Well, Eileen Cannon is sort of a classic Trump appointee. So if you'll remember from 2016 until he left office, Donald Trump really transformed the federal judiciary. He had the Senate on his side, and he was able to push through a lot of his judicial picks. And they were all very, very young. Judge Cannon is no exception. Prior to her appointment, she really had no other judicial experience. She had been working as a litigator at a law firm, Gibson Dunn, and then later she served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida, where she worked primarily on appellate matters, although she did have a couple of trials. But they were mostly pretty anodyne federal trials.

But it does suggest that when she took the bench in November 2020, she didn't have a lot of criminal trial experience. And since taking the bench, she's only had about 14 days of trial in her courtroom. But she hasn't had anything nearly as complex or presented the kinds of unprecedented issues that this classified documents case is going to present.

PARKS: Melissa, can you walk through exactly why some legal experts now are looking at how Judge Cannon is operating in this case and saying that the things she's doing are going to lead to a delayed trial? What is actually happening here?

MURRAY: Well, there's been a lot of slow walking here. The Mar-a-Lago case is one, I think, that presents some pretty straightforward issues. I mean, there are a lot of complexities involving how classified information will be used as evidence. But for the most part, there's an obstruction charge. There's the question of the improper retention of the documents. And it should proceed in a pretty timely fashion. But what we've seen from Judge Cannon in some of these initial motions that have to be dealt with is that she seems to want to kind of slow walk things.

For example, there is a very big question about what kind of information can be admitted into evidence, given that so much of this information is classified. There's a question about the trial date. She's really delayed a lot of those decisions that could be decided right now. She said that she's not going to rule on Donald Trump's motion to further delay this trial until later, when more information comes out. But that, in and of itself, sets up all of this to be delayed at the last minute.

And the question here isn't just about this particular trial but the sequencing of all four of these criminal trials. And Donald Trump knows this, his lawyers know this. And we've seen the effort to delay these trials from the January 6 D.C. trial to this trial in the Southern District of Florida. And it's going to continue down the line. And if Judge Cannon doesn't hold the line on this, it is going to have a ripple effect.

MONTANARO: I mean, I think there's a valid concern that if Judge Cannon pushes this off beyond the 2024 election, into 2025, and former President Trump becomes President Trump again, that he would make efforts to interfere with the Justice Department and quash this. So I think that there's some really valid concerns there.

PARKS: Melissa, I do want to zero in on something you kind of touched on, which is the interplay between all of these different trials. It's something that, honestly, I'm still really confused about in terms of how they all decide their schedules and work around each other. Is this - can you explain this a little bit more? Like, are people in communication to try to work out, you know, when Trump is going to appear where or how actually, when you are in the middle of so many legal issues, do these things actually get worked out?

MURRAY: Just as a practical matter, no judge in the United States, whether it's at the state level or the federal level, is going to make Trump's defense team turn around from having just tried one case to verdict, to then immediately turning to another trial. They're going to give them a little bit of a breather, which is why, when Judge Cannon doesn't really issue a ruling on the question of when the timetable is going to be set for this particular trial, it kind of leaves everything up in the air. Because if she goes second, if she goes third, we don't know. And that leads to a lot of lag time for the other trials.

We have Fani Willis down in Georgia arguing that she wants to get started in August. That's probably timed to allow for the Jack Smith trial in D.C. to happen and to allow for Mar-a-Lago to happen because it's sort of clear that those two cases are ready to go. Judge Cannon is kind of the fulcrum around a lot of this, because if she keeps delaying and delaying and delaying and we go past the May 2024 deadline that Jack Smith has articulated, and now we're into 2025, then we've blown out Georgia entirely.

PARKS: Domenico, how does all of this affect whether voters are going to take into what they hear at these trials when they go - actually go to the ballot box?

MONTANARO: Well, I think we're on a collision course that I don't think a lot of people see just how quickly it's coming up. Because, you know, we mentioned that it's 44 days until the Iowa caucuses. And what we just found out this week, we just got the Republican National Committee calendar for the delegates and how they're apportioned. And that's how a nominee is selected. They have to win a majority of the delegates. And half of the delegates, almost half of the delegates are going to be decided, already apportioned by March 5. And what is on March 4 but the supposed beginning trial date in New York?

PARKS: Beginning, yeah.

MONTANARO: By the end of March, 70% of the delegates will have already been decided. So this idea that somehow a conviction of Trump will change the course of the Republican primary just isn't going to happen. We're existing in two different universes because the primaries are largely going to be over before there's even a chance for a conviction.

PARKS: That was NPR's senior editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro and NYU law professor Melissa Murray. Thanks to you both.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

MURRAY: 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.