(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge denied Donald Trump’s bid to get criminal charges dropped by claiming top secret records found at his Florida home were personal, keeping the criminal case on track and dealing a blow to the former president.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday refused to dismiss the charges on grounds that Trump’s possession of classified materials was covered by the Presidential Records Act, after the special counsel prosecuting the case demanded the judge explain her views on the matter before trial.

Cannon’s order appeared to agree with Special Counsel Jack Smith that the charges against Trump — alleging he took highly sensitive documents from the White House after losing the 2020 election — are based on violations of the 1917 Espionage Act. 

Smith on Tuesday vented frustration with the judge, after she asked both sides for jury instructions before setting a trial date, saying her understanding of key legal issues appeared to be “fundamentally flawed.”

However, Cannon suggested in her order that the argument for relying on the Presidential Records Act may still be a possibility when it comes to writing up instructions for the jury to consider. The judge refused Smith’s request that she explicitly say the Presidential Records Act won’t come up in her instructions to the jury.

The move represents a significant development in the case because up until this point it has been unclear if Cannon might side with Trump and rule that he was allowed to declare the documents personal under the 1978 law and take them with him to Mar-a-Lago after he left the White House.

Cannon said the 32 counts accusing Trump of willfully retaining national defense documents “make no reference to the Presidential Records Act, nor do they rely on that statute for purposes of stating an offense.“

“As for the remaining counts against Defendant Trump, they too track the applicable statutory language and essential elements of the charged crimes,“ Cannon said.

The decision was handed down Thursday only hours after another judge denied Trump’s request to dismiss Georgia’s criminal case against him for attempting to overturn the result of the 2020 election. He also faces two other prosecutions, the first of which goes to trial in Manhattan on April 15.

The order likely will reduce mounting tensions between Smith and Cannon. 

In a court filing late Tuesday, Smith criticized Cannon for entertaining the argument that the case could be decided based on the 1978 law. 

Smith said she created the risk of fatally damaging the case before it goes to trial and called on Cannon to clarify her intentions so he can decide whether to file an appeal to contest her decisions.

“The court’s scenarios are fundamentally flawed and any jury instructions that reflect those scenarios would be error,” Smith wrote. “Whatever the court decides, it must resolve these crucial threshold legal questions promptly. The failure to do so would improperly jeopardize the government’s right to a fair trial and deprive it of its right to seek appellate review.”

 

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