• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

Last week, Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the classified documents case against Donald Trump in Florida, issued an order indefinitely postponing the trial date in that case, virtually guaranteeing that a jury won’t hear the case before November. She based her reasoning on the numerous pending pre-trial motions that present “novel and difficult issues.” It’s not particularly surprising that Cannon is slow-rolling the case – she’s been doing that for the last several months. The question is, why? I know the popular interpretation of her dilatory tactics is that she has it in the bag for Trump. But as they say, never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. Cannon’s bizarre conduct so far, while certainly evincing a bias towards Trump, suggests not so much that she is engaged in a nefarious plot to get him off the hook, but rather that she is in waaaay over her head and has no idea what to do next.

You might think this is being too generous to her, but bear with me. Let’s look at how kookily this thing has played out so far. To really put Cannon’s current actions in proper context, we need to go back a year and a half, before she was even formally assigned this case. That was when, you might remember, Trump filed a civil lawsuit in her district in the aftermath of the search warrant that was executed in Mar-a-Lago in August of 2022, arguing that the seized materials were covered by “executive privilege” and required the appointment of a special master to sift through them. Cannon used – or as the 11th Circuit later found, abused – her power to exercise “equitable and anomalous jurisdiction” (which is the power to correct issues of fairness, unheard of as a sideshow to a criminal case) to hear Trump’s claim. Cannon not only appointed a special master, but she enjoined the government from even using the documents with classified markings in its criminal investigation until the special master had finished. She did so despite the fact that a) the current president, who holds the privilege, had waived it; and b) classified documents belong to the government, not to the office of the presidency.

In granting Trump’s request to appoint a special master, Cannon demonstrated that she was willing to take Trump’s specious arguments at face value, even on the more obvious points of law.  Unfortunately for her, the 11th Circuit didn’t see the law through the same, Trump-colored glasses, which became evident in its 1-2 punch reversals of her special master debacle. The appellate court’s unceremonious “benchslap” of Cannon entertaining Trump’s civil claim was no doubt embarrassing for a newbie judge who thought she was really engaging with “novel and difficult” issues. After all, Cannon based her application of the factors justifying her extraordinary jurisdiction on an assumption that the “stigma” attached to the threat of future prosecution of a former President of the United States is greater than that of any ordinary defendant. The 11th Circuit, however, firmly noted that the law applied the same “no matter who the government is investigating” and that a defendant’s former status as President “does not give the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation.” Ouch.