Federal prosecutors on Thursday asked the judge overseeing former President Donald J. Trump’s classified documents case to reject a motion by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to have his trial indefinitely postponed, a move that could serve to delay the proceeding until after the 2024 election.
The filing by the prosecutors came three days after Mr. Trump’s legal team made an unusual request to the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, asking her to set aside the government’s initial suggestion to hold the trial in December and delay it until all “substantive motions” in the case were presented and resolved.
The timing of a trial is crucial in all criminal matters. But it is especially important in this case, in which Mr. Trump has been charged with illegally holding on to 31 classified documents after leaving the White House and conspiring with one of his personal aides, Walt Nauta, to obstruct the government’s efforts to reclaim them.
Mr. Trump is now both a federal criminal defendant and the Republican Party’s leading candidate in the presidential campaign. There could be untold complications if his trial seeps into the final stages of the race. Moreover, if the trial is pushed back until after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he could try to pardon himself after taking office or have his attorney general dismiss the matter entirely.
Apparently recognizing these high stakes, prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, told Judge Cannon that she should not allow Mr. Trump and Mr. Nauta to let the case drag on without a foreseeable ending.
“There is no basis in law or fact for proceeding in such an indeterminate and open-ended fashion,” they wrote, “and the defendants provide none.”
Mr. Trump’s lawyers based their motion for a delay — which was filed on Monday in the Southern District of Florida — on several assertions.
They said that as the case moved forward, they intended to make novel — and presumably time-consuming — arguments that the Presidential Records Act permitted Mr. Trump to take documents with him from the White House. That interpretation of the Watergate-era law is at odds with how legal experts interpret it.
Prosecutors responded by saying this potential defense “borders on frivolous.” They also reminded Judge Cannon that it was not new at all, but in fact was central to an extended legal battle last year that she oversaw, in which an outside arbiter was put in place to review a trove of materials seized by the F.B.I. from Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers also complained that a first trove of discovery evidence provided by the government was expansive — including more than 800,000 pages of material — and would take a significant amount of time to sort through.
Prosecutors shot back, saying about a third of those pages contained unimportant “email header and footer information” and that a set of “key” documents that would guide the defense toward the crucial sections of discovery was only about 4,500 pages.
The prosecutors also told Judge Cannon that they intended to provide Mr. Trump’s lawyers with a second batch of unclassified discovery evidence as early as next week, including interviews conducted with witnesses as recently as June 23 — a few weeks after Mr. Trump was indicted. That suggests, as The New York Times has reported, that the investigation of the classified documents case continued even after charges were filed.
As for the classified discovery evidence, prosecutors said they planned to take the bulk of the classified materials seized from Mar-a-Lago to a sensitive compartmented information facility inside Miami’s federal courthouse next week for review by Mr. Trump’s lawyers — even though some of them only have interim security clearances.
Once the lawyers have their final security clearances, the prosecutors said, they will be able to look at the remaining classified records, including some “pertaining to the declassification of various materials during the Trump administration.”
In asking for a delay, Mr. Trump’s lawyers had said that his campaign schedule “requires a tremendous amount of time and energy” and that these efforts would continue until the election. They argued that Mr. Nauta had a similar problem since his job requires him to accompany Mr. Trump on “most campaign trips around the country.”
But prosecutors seemed to have no patience for this argument, saying the two men’s “professional schedules do not provide a basis to delay.”
“Many indicted defendants have demanding jobs that require a considerable amount of their time and energy, or a significant amount of travel,” they wrote. “The Speedy Trial Act contemplates no such factor as a basis for a continuance, and the court should not indulge it here.”