Politics

Judge Makes Major Decision In Trump’s Classified Documents Case

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.


U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon handed Special Counsel Jack Smith a win this week in former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case.

Smith filed a motion in March regarding an impending filing from Trump co-defendant Walt Nauta. Cannon, the federal judge presiding over the trial in Smith’s case accusing the former president of mishandling classified documents, granted the motion. A portion of the filing had been subject to “extensive redactions” at Smith’s request before going public.

In his 40-count lawsuit, Smith charges Trump with unlawfully retaining classified materials at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, and thwarting attempts by the federal government to retrieve them, Newsweek reported.

The presumed Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has entered not guilty pleas to every charge. He insists on his innocence and claims he is the target of political harassment by the Justice Department.

In response to Smith’s request, Trump appointee Cannon stated on Wednesday that Smith should have at least some of the requested material redacted.

“PAPERLESS ORDER granting in part the Special Counsel’s Third Motion for Redactions [423] in accordance with the Court’s prior Orders [474] [492]. The Court expresses no opinion on any other requests contained in the Special Counsel’s Motion. Signed by Judge Aileen M. Cannon on 4/30/2024,” Cannon’s order reads.

Smith wrote in his order a list of parts of the document that he thought should be hidden before they were made public.

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For example, he wrote that some of the papers in the filing were about things that are currently secret. It talked about “a sealed grand jury proceeding in the District of Columbia that involved a third client of his counsel, but that was unrelated to this case,” and it supposedly named possible government witnesses in a different part.

“As the Government has argued in its prior motions for redactions and/or sealing (ECF Nos. 348 and 384), witness safety and privacy are paramount pretrial. The limited redactions of the names satisfy the good cause standard established in Chicago Tribune Co. v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc…as well as the higher standard requiring a compelling interest for the redactions and the redactions being narrowly tailored,” he wrote.

Things have not been going well for Smith lately.

Last week, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig delivered some bad news to Smith in light of a ruling by Judge Cannon in the case.

A three-page order from Cannon, who has come under increasing scrutiny from the left over her handling of the case, served as the impetus for Smith’s comments during a segment on the network this month.

In her order, Cannon rebuked Smith in response to a recent filing while also rejecting Trump’s plea to dismiss the case based on protection under the Presidential Records Act.

The Washington Post reported: “Even as she ruled against Trump’s motion, Cannon’s three-page order also revealed her displeasure over Smith’s characterization of her order, suggesting this may not be the last such battle in the historic prosecution of a former president and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate.”

CNN host Brianna Keilar asked the former federal prosecutor, “Where does this leave the timeline of this case, Elie?”

“Well, a mess, in short,” he responded. “No way that this case was gonna get tried before the election. And now, I think we have other pending issues.”

Honig pointed out that some legal experts are suggesting that Smith could appeal to the 11th Circuit to request Cannon’s dismissal from the case. In the past, the 11th Circuit has overturned two rulings made by Cannon that were favorable to Trump in this case. However, Honig believes that Cannon’s decision has made it almost impossible for Smith to pursue that option.

“I actually think what the judge did today forecloses that, makes it impossible to do that because the judge said, ‘Well, we’re gonna decide when the trial happens, and maybe it’s something that will go to the jury,’” Honig continued.

“You really can’t appeal that if you’re Jack Smith. And by the way, Brie, this is why I think Jack Smith is concerned with today’s ruling. Although he won in the sense that the court did not dismiss the charges, if I’m Jack Smith – and I think Smith feels the same way – I’m very worried about this defense going to a jury because it’s confusing, because it’s complicated, because it’s technical. And prosecutors always want to tell a simple, straightforward story. And frankly, defendants want to muck things up,” he added.

“And as much as I think this defense lacks merit, I do think it could confuse a jury in a way that would worry me as a prosecutor,” he said.

Also, in her order, Cannon chastised Smith for seeking jury instructions way too early, “prior to trial, prior to a charge conference, and prior to the presentation of trial defenses and evidence.”

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In a related case, another legal expert believes Trump’s presidential immunity case before the Supreme Court is looking good for him.

Writing in The Atlantic, senior editor Ronald Brownstein’s piece “Trump Is Getting What He Wants” concluded that the former president will likely not be tried in federal courts before the November election.

“Five of the Republican-appointed justices, really all of them except Amy Coney Barrett, gave very clear signals that they are going to protect the Republican presidential nominee from a trial before the November election on the charges that this poll and other polls show are the most serious to the American people,” Brownstein told CNN host Kate Bolduan.

“I mean, in practical terms, almost any of the rulings that seemed possible out of that hearing are going to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for there to be a trial on whether Trump tried to subvert the last election before he faces voters in the next election,” he added.

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