Politics

‘No Way That Is Happening Now’

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


Judge Aileen Cannon of the U.S. District Court essentially removed the chance that former President Donald Trump would face legal proceedings in July regarding his purported mishandling of classified documents.

Cannon gave Trump until May 9 to reveal the classified documents he would use to support his case in an order on Wednesday.

Reporter Hugo Lowell of the Guardian noted that on March 18, special counsel Jack Smith suggested that Trump submit his notification under Section 5 of the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA).

“That’s not an unreasonable length of time to give Trump — it’s typical to give defendants in NatSec cases several weeks to draft their Sec 5 notice so it’s sufficiently specific. But a May 9 deadline might be frustrating for the Special Counsel,” Lowell wrote on X.

“Special Counsel proposed March 18 deadline for Trump to file his Sec 5 notice, in order to get to a July 2024 trial,” he added. “No way that is happening now, given deadline is 7 weeks later. But she also didn’t give Trump the June 17 deadline he wanted — so no 11th Circuit ammo either.”

The 37 criminal charges against Trump stem from his alleged unlawful holding of classified documents at his estate in Florida after he left office in 2021.

The accusations include lying to investigators, conspiring to obstruct justice, and breaking the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act carries 31 counts, the most serious of which carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

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Cannon hasn’t decided on a trial date yet.

Earlier this week, Judge Cannon granted Special Counsel Jack Smith’s request to conceal witnesses from the defense.

Cannon made the decision this week following a Smith court filing to redact the names of witnesses in the classified documents case against Trump. Her ruling comes after extensive debates regarding the confidentiality of details within court documents.

Cannon sided with Smith, expressing concern that revealing witness names and details could jeopardize their safety. While acknowledging the extensive nature of the request for redactions, she recognized the importance of protecting witness information for the time being, the Daily Caller reported.

“The Court is satisfied that the Special Counsel has made an adequate showing on this issue under Rule 16, at least at this juncture pending final trial preparations,” according to the court filing. “The Court directs the Special Counsel … to file under seal an index containing the name of each potential government witness and a corresponding pseudonym/anonymization for use in the redactions of Defendants’ MTC.”

This decision permits the release of additional case documents to the public while preserving witness anonymity using pseudonyms. Witness statements may be disclosed, but any information that may identify them will be redacted.

“The Special Counsel shall file under seal an index identifying each potential government witness identified in any of the discovery materials attached/referenced in the MTC, giving each a corresponding pseudonym/anonymization (e.g., “John Smith” – NARA Employee 1),” said the ruling.

Cannon noted that the special counsel’s office had not presented all arguments regarding witness anonymity earlier in the proceedings, which led to a reconsideration of an earlier order for more openness.

“Although the record is clear that the Special Counsel could have, and should have, raised its current arguments previously, the Court elects, upon a full review of those newly raised arguments, to reconsider its prior Order,” she stated.

Smith opposed the public disclosure of witness identities, citing concerns about potential harassment. CNN reported that the witness list may include employees from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump’s legal team had advocated for naming potential witnesses, a customary practice in criminal cases.

However, the court has opted against it due to concerns about witness protection, as previously noted. Trump and his two co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges. The former president also refutes allegations regarding the improper handling of classified information.

The case is ongoing under Cannon’s oversight.

Earlier this week, Smith’s team filed an appeal, essentially demanding that Cannon decide jury instructions concerning the President Records Act (PRA).

Trump has maintained that the PRA gave him the right to declassify any documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago, including some that contained secrets related to national security.

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Smith claims that a “fundamentally flawed legal premise” underlies Judge Cannon’s request for competing jury instructions.

Smith also argued that if Judge Cannon concurs with the former president that the PRA does not distinguish between official records and private property, he would be able to file an appeal and request an immediate review. He goes on to say that such instructions would “distort the trial” if the case proceeds to trial.

“The PRA’s distinction between personal and presidential records has no bearing on whether a former President’s possession of documents containing national defense information is authorized under the Espionage Act, and the PRA should play no role in the jury instructions,” Smith said in the filing. “Indeed, based on the current record, the PRA should not play any role at trial at all.”

“Furthermore, Trump’s entire effort to rely on the PRA is not based on any facts,” Smith continued. “Instead he has attempted to fashion out of whole cloth a legal presumption that would operate untethered to any facts — without regard to his actual decisions, his actual intent, the unambiguous definition of what continues personal records under the PRA, or the plainly non-personal content of the highly classified documents he retained.”

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