Who is Aileen Cannon?
On Tuesday, former US President Donald Trump will appear before a federal court in Miami to face 37 felony counts related to alleged mishandling of classified documents. But Aileen Cannon, a Trump-appointed Florida district judge, could present roadblocks for prosecutors.
Cannon — who belongs to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group — is the newest member of the federal bench in South Florida. Trump’s case was randomly assigned to one of the four judges in the district, and gives her the power to control the timing of hearings, oversee jury selection, and determine what evidence can be presented. Her role has raised concerns in the Justice Department over her alleged impartiality, and spurred calls for Cannon to recuse herself over rulings that delayed the DOJ’s probe earlier this year.
For instance, Cannon prevented federal investigators from using over 100 classified documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate as a part of their criminal inquiry, arguing that it was a national security risk over a potential leak. She later agreed to the former president’s request to appoint a special master to assess if the sensitive documents in question could be covered by executive privilege. (Both rulings were later overturned by a Florida appeals court.)
But whatever the controversy, there is no legal requirement for Cannon to step away from the case. If she did, the trial would be reassigned to one of the other three federal judges in her division, none of whom were appointed by (!) the defendant.
How the judge handles the timeline of the proceedings might determine how they affect the 2024 election. If it's a quick trial, Trump could be found guilty just before Americans vote — validating his claim that this legal prosecution is really political persecution. And while any potential decision is still months away, the indictments in New York and Miami continue to bolster Trump’s fundraising and poll numbers among Republicans.
“The personality cult surrounding Trump is bigger than any one fact coming out against him,” says Eurasia Group’s US Managing Director Jon Lieber.
Also, don't forget that these are just two of the former president's pending cases. More are likely on the way from prosecutors in Georgia looking into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election result, and an ongoing federal probe into Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Trump’s whole MO is drawing these things out as long as possible,” Lieber adds. “Plus, there is the added layer of secret documents that need to be reviewed, so this trial could take a long time.”