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Explainer-What happens next in the Trump documents case

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By Jack Queen

(Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been indicted for illegally retaining classified government records at his Florida estate after leaving the White House in 2021 and obstruction of justice. Here is what to expect as the case proceeds.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Trump, who on Thursday proclaimed his innocence, is scheduled to make his first appearance in Florida federal court on Tuesday.

The indictment is under seal and it is unclear if it will made public before then.

Soon after Trump appears in court, prosecutors will begin handing over evidence to Trump’s lawyers. That could include years of correspondence between Trump’s lawyers, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and federal prosecutors as they haggled over the documents.

At some point, Trump’s lawyers are expected to file a motion to dismiss the case for a variety of reasons, including his claim that he declassified the documents before taking them. They are also likely to argue that the case should be tossed for what they allege was misconduct by prosecutors, including alleged violations of a legal doctrine that permits people to keep communications with their lawyers private.

Motions to dismiss in criminal cases are standard but rarely succeed because defendants face a high burden convincing a judge that their case is too flawed to even go before a jury. Prosecutors are also entitled to the benefit of the doubt on their factual allegations at that stage.

WHAT IMPACT WILL THE CASE HAVE ON TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN?

The charges include violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, making false statements to investigators and conspiracy, according ABC.

None of those would automatically prevent Trump from campaigning or taking office if he is convicted.

It is unclear the impact the case will have on Trump’s standing with voters. Trump’s numbers rose after he was indicted in a separate case in New York in April, and he is the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

He has used the cases and investigations he faces as fundraising tools, telling supporters that he is under attack and needs their help. Trump’s campaign said in April that donations surged after he was indicted in New York.

WHEN WILL THE CASE GO TO TRIAL?

Any potential trial could be many months away.

Trump, who has denied wrongdoing and calls the case a politically motivated “witch hunt,” has a right to face trial within 100 days, but that rarely happens in complex cases. The parties will likely agree to extend deadlines as they pore over evidence and argue legal disputes before a judge.

WILL TRUMP TESTIFY?

That would be up to him. Criminal defendants are not required to testify and rarely do because subjecting themselves to cross-examination by prosecutors is risky.

Trump did not testify at a recent civil trial over sex abuse and defamation claims brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll. A jury found Trump liable in that case in May.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE CASE IF TRUMP WINS THE ELECTION?

It is unlikely the prosecution will proceed if Trump wins the 2024 presidential election.

The U.S. Department of Justice is part of the executive branch, and presidents are the top federal law enforcement officers in the country. Federal prosecutors generally serve at their pleasure.

The Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. The department can deviate from policy in “extraordinary circumstances” with the approval of the U.S. attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement official.

A lame-duck attorney general serving under President Joe Biden, in this case Merrick Garland, could ignore that policy and forge ahead, but Trump, as president, could fire him and hire an acting replacement of his choice before naming a permanent successor subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Howard Goller, Noeleen Walder and Lincoln Feast)

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