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Judge denies Trump's personal property claim in classified documents case

A federal judge denied former President Trump’s efforts to toss his Mar-a-Lago documents case Thursday, arguing that the more than 300 classified records recovered from his property could have been considered personal records.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon comes after special counsel Jack Smith urged her to promptly reject Trump’s claims that the Presidential Records Act (PRA) allowed him to deem the national security records his personal property.

“The Presidential Records Act does not provide a pre-trial basis to dismiss,” Cannon wrote in the three-page ruling.

While the ruling is seemingly a win for Smith, Cannon didn’t rule out Trump’s ability to raise the issue at trial. She also used ample space in the short decision to take the special counsel to task over comments made in an earlier filing that urged her to speed along the case.

Thursday’s ruling came roughly six weeks after Trump’s effort to toss the case. Legal experts expected his PRA arguments to be quickly dismissed by the court.

Smith in court filings had called the idea that Trump could consider such records to be his personal property a “fundamentally flawed legal premise.”

“It would be pure fiction to suggest that highly classified documents created by members of the intelligence community and military and presented to the President of the United States during his term in office were ‘purely private,’” his team wrote in a Tuesday filing.

“Based on the current record, the PRA should not play any role at trial at all.”

Trump is largely being prosecuted under the Espionage Act, which prohibits the willful retention of national defense information. He is also charged with obstruction of justice for seeking to conceal the records from authorities after they demanded their return. Prosecutors had argued the PRA had no bearing on Trump’s ability to retain the documents.

Still, Cannon seemed to give credence to Trump’s arguments that the records could be considered personal property under the PRA, asking both sides to weigh competing jury instructions that would advise jurors on the matter.

Those instructions spurred the Tuesday response from Smith that made clear prosecutors’ frustration with Cannon’s slow pace on the case, calling it “vitally important” she “promptly decide” the matter.

Cannon lashed out Thursday, noting the PRA argument could still come before jurors.

“To the extent the Special Counsel demands an anticipatory finalization of jury instructions prior to trial, prior to a charge conference, and prior to the presentation of trial defenses and evidence, the Court declines that demand as unprecedented and unjust,” Cannon wrote.

She said her call for the jury instructions should not have been “misconstrued” as an endorsement of Trump’s argument.

“Nor should it be interpreted as anything other than what it was: a genuine attempt, in the context of the upcoming trial, to better understand the parties’ competing positions and the questions to be submitted to the jury,” Cannon wrote.

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