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'Huge problem': New allegation by a Trump lawyer could derail Jack Smith’s Mar-a-Lago case

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon still hasn't set a trial date in former President Donald Trump's classified documents case in the Southern District of Florida. And a date could be even further off after new allegations leveled by a member of Trump's defense team.

The Daily Beast reported that Stanley Woodward — an attorney for Trump "body man" Walt Nauta — is alleging "vindictive prosecution" by Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith. This stems from an incident in which prosecutor Jay Bratt, who is working under Smith, reportedly inferred that Woodward's representation of Nauta could complicate a possible judicial appointment in Washington, D.C. courts. Defense lawyers also say that Bratt engaged in a "campaign of intimidation and harassment" against Woodward to exert pressure.

"Mr. Bratt attempted to coerce Mr. Nauta’s compliance with the investigation by dangling potential favorability on Mr. Woodward’s potential judicial nomination," read a letter by Woodward and another lawyer representing Nauta. "Put differently, Mr. Woodward was presented with two options: Our way or the hard way."

ALSO READ: Trump vs. history: Former presidents typically implode on their comeback tours

Smith's team denies the allegations, saying that Bratt's remark was intentionally misrepresented. According to the Beast's Jose Pagliery, prosecutors countered that Bratt had no knowledge that Woodward was being considered for a judicial appointment, and was instead mistakenly referencing what he thought was Woodward's service on the judicial nominating commission in D.C.

"This accusation was never leveled before June 2023, and is implausible to say the least. It rests on a tortured theory that a 30-year veteran federal prosecutor, with three other federal prosecutors watching, attempted to extort a defense attorney he had just met by threatening to contact the White House, in violation of department policy, in order to discourage the president from advancing a long-dormant nomination to the superior court bench, unless the attorney promised to secure the cooperation of a client who had just retained him," Smith's team wrote. "Simply put, the accusation is false."

George Washington University professor emeritus Catherine Ross told Pagliery that if there was any truth to Woodward's allegations, it could have the potential to derail the Mar-a-Lago case.

"If the prosecutor actually did that, that is very bad for the case. It could turn the prosecutor into a witness for the defense later in the case. And it could support a dismissal if it impacted the representation he got from his defense lawyer. That’s a huge problem," Ross said.

Ross contrasted this case with the effort by defense lawyers in Fulton, County Georgia to remove District Attorney Fani Willis from the case earlier this year. She noted that while Willis was able to beat those allegations because they didn't actually discredit the essential elements of her case against Trump and his co-defendants.

"This is much more serious and much more directly involved with the prosecutor in the case," Ross said.

Cannon hasn't yet signaled when she would rule on the allegations, but Pagliery wrote that the vindictive prosecution claims could result in the Trump-appointed judge sidelining the case while she considers both sides' arguments. Ross said that, given Cannon's pattern of slow-walking the pre-trial process, a decision shouldn't be expected anytime soon.

"She can make a decision, wait for them to appeal it, she can say she needs a prolonged inquiry and put off the hearing for two months—which is her style," Ross said. "She doesn’t render decisions quickly. She could give them six weeks to have them submit affidavits she might want to see. She has a lot of discretion in how to respond to this.”

Click here to read the Beast's report in full (subscription required).


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