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Judge Rejects Trump Dismissal Effort in Classified Documents Case

A federal judge on Thursday rejected for now one of former President Donald J. Trump’s central efforts to dismiss charges that he had mishandled classified documents after leaving office.

The judge, Aileen M. Cannon, ruled that Mr. Trump could not escape prosecution by arguing that he had converted the highly sensitive records he took from the White House into his personal property under a law known as the Presidential Records Act.

In a terse three-page order, Judge Cannon said that the statute, which was put in place after the Watergate scandal to ensure that most records from a president’s time in office remained in the possession of the government, “does not provide a pretrial basis to dismiss” the case.

The decision was a victory of sorts for the special counsel, Jack Smith, who has persistently argued that the Presidential Records Act should have nothing to do with the criminal prosecution of a former president accused of removing national security documents from the White House and then obstructing efforts to retrieve them.

But it may not be the final word on the subject.

Last month, Judge Cannon made a curious request to Mr. Trump’s lawyers and Mr. Smith’s prosecutors, asking them to send her proposed jury instructions about how the Presidential Records Act might affect the central allegation against Mr. Trump: that he took “unauthorized possession” of the documents by removing them from the White House.

Judge Cannon seemed to be exploring the idea that if the act really did permit Mr. Trump to make the documents personal, then he could not be said to have had “authorized possession” of them.

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