The decision to indict former President Donald J. Trump in Miami, rather than Washington, eliminated the risk of a potentially thorny fight over where the charges should have been filed, but created a different risk entirely: that the case would end up before a particularly Trump-friendly judge, Aileen M. Cannon.
On Friday, five people familiar with the matter said that Mr. Trump’s criminal case was assigned, at least for now, to Judge Cannon, who last fall issued a series of rulings unusually favorable to him. That assignment was earlier reported by ABC News.
For months, prosecutors had used a grand jury in the nation’s capital to question witnesses and hear evidence before abruptly bringing a still-sealed indictment in the Southern District of Florida that apparently includes at least one violation of the Espionage Act, obstruction and false statements.
Because Mr. Trump was holding the documents at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, it was not clear that Washington would be the proper venue to charge crimes like unauthorized retention of national security documents and obstruction.
In federal law, “venue” refers to the proper place to hold a trial: Prosecutors cannot choose any federal courthouse in the country, but rather must charge a defendant in a district that has a sufficient connection with the events that gave rise to the matter.
There was some connection to Washington: the National Archives and Records Administration, the legal custodian of White House records after a president leaves office, is based there, as is the grand jury the Justice Department used to obtain a subpoena in 2022 requiring Mr. Trump to return all documents marked as classified in his possession.
And there would have been some advantages to prosecutors to bringing a case in Washington. For one thing, that is where the team working on the investigation lives and works. For another, it would have ensured that the case stayed away from Judge Cannon.
Bringing the case in Washington would have given Mr. Trump’s defense team an argument for having the charges thrown out for being in the improper venue. Dennis M. Fitzpatrick, a former prosecutor who handled national security cases in Virginia, noted that Mr. Trump’s own actions under investigation appear to have happened in Florida rather than Washington.
Not only were the documents improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago, but investigators have also tried to determine whether Mr. Trump had sought to have the files at his estate moved or concealed after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for their return.
The known charges did not make clear where the false statements are suspected to have taken place, but if it was in Florida, that would also be the appropriate place to charge them, former prosecutors said.
“When a prosecutor thinks he has a strong case, the objective becomes protecting the legal case by taking legal issues off the table,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said. “Venue in D.C. would have been a legal fight.”
The decision to indict Mr. Trump in Florida also means prosecutors might lose the advantage of putting a case in front of a potentially more liberal Washington jury. (Mr. Trump received 4 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia in the presidential election of 2016, and 5 percent in 2020.)
Juries in Washington have swiftly convicted rioters egged on by Mr. Trump in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Although there were doubts about whether prosecutors would win complex cases charging members of the far-right groups the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys with seditious conspiracy, a law rarely tested, Washington juries have not acquitted a single Jan. 6 defendant.
In Florida, which is more conservative, the jury pool could be far different. To convict Mr. Trump of a crime, the 12-member panel must be unanimous.
Brandon L. Van Grack, a former federal prosecutor who also worked on complex cases involving national security and classified material, wrote in a legal publication last year that there were many reasons to bring the case to Washington, including the number of judges there who are more familiar with handling cases involving classified information and the Espionage Act, and a jury pool in Washington that “appears to be less deferential toward” Mr. Trump.
But in an interview, Mr. Van Grack said Jack Smith, the special counsel, must have believed that there was real legal risk in bringing a case in Washington and that bringing the case in Florida would be more prudent.
“There is a constitutional right to be charged in the location where the crime occurred and Jack Smith took a cold, hard look at the facts and determined that venue was appropriate in Florida,” Mr. Van Grack said.
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