The criminal case against Donald Trump and others involving classified documents heated up again on Monday, with a key hearing over access to evidence that could impact whether the former president is prosecuted before the November election. Will he go or not?
But still, the proceedings before Judge Eileen Cannon in federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, will not be public.
According to court documents, Trump and his lawyers will meet with Cannon for several hours on Monday in a closed-door hearing without prosecutors to discuss the case “in detail.” Special counsel Jack Smith’s team will meet with Cannon at a later date.
Trump is expected to attend Monday’s closed-door hearing, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. However, a senior adviser cautioned that the former president could always change his mind at the last minute, as he is not required to attend.
Defense lawyers will argue for access to classified evidence in the case that they or their clients have not yet seen – and prosecutors and intelligence agencies will want to stay away from them, potentially giving them only a summary of the information. Because of how sensitive it is, according to court records.
While many of the Mar-a-Lago document case proceedings and filings have been kept away from public view in recent weeks, prosecutors and the defense team have been preparing for trial.
The defense team has been preparing for Monday’s hearing for the past several days – including Super Bowl Sunday, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter, writing motions and reviewing evidence at a sensitive information facility called SCIF in Florida. With the team.
In addition to the upcoming hearing, they face a looming court filing deadline in less than two weeks, as they continue to strategize ways to delay the trial. They are also fighting prosecutors over releasing the names of witnesses long before the trial.
Court cases involving such classified evidence require careful oversight by the judge to ensure that defense teams can access the evidence in preparation for trial while protecting the federal government’s national security secrets. This sometimes prompts extended court proceedings to determine which pieces of classified evidence can be seen by defense attorneys and even the defendant. In Trump’s case, the complexities of the case, multiple defendants, and the number of classified records that make up the evidence may be delayed.
A March 1 hearing with Canon is expected to determine whether the trial can proceed as scheduled in May.
The Justice Department previously said it wanted to retain at least 5,500 pages of material from Trump’s co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos de Oliveira — some of which their lawyers, Trump and his defense team have already submitted to SCIF. Can work in.
According to court filings, the records being held by the co-defendants are primarily documents with classified markings found in boxes at Mar-a-Lago by the FBI in August 2022. Lawyers for Nauta and de Oliveira have argued that they should get more access so they can “meaningfully discuss the feasibility” of their defense, a matter that is likely to be discussed in sealed proceedings on Monday.
A small set of records is also being kept from Trump and his lawyers due to national security sensitivities of the federal government. Cannon has already heard arguments in person from the special counsel’s office once and witnessed sworn statements from intelligence agencies on the need to keep certain records secret, even from defense teams.
At a later date, Canon will have to decide what evidence is necessary to use during the public trial and how that information can be presented.
Debate over witness protection and delays
The tensions in the Mar-a-Lago case extend far beyond the rescue teams’ access to evidence. The special counsel’s office is trying to keep from making public the names of witnesses who might be called to testify against Trump at trial, saying the witnesses could be harassed.
Those witnesses include government personnel at the National Archives, more than 20 FBI agents who searched Mar-a-Lago, people who had connections to Trump and his co-defendants, and other career civil servants. Smith cited numerous threats against judges, prosecutors and witnesses, including a threat made on social media to a witness who is the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
Although little information is public about the closed-door feud between Trump, his co-defendants and the special counsel, the former president has made clear that he believes the drama about the discovery and classified information will be avoided. The trial’s scheduled start date in May must be delayed.
Trump’s effort to delay the trial mirrors several of his recent moves in court.
Smith made clear his frustration over these efforts, writing in a recent court filing that the defense “will leave no stone unturned to prevent the adjudication of the charges against them by a fair and impartial jury of citizens.”
Smith alleged that Trump is using a series of legal challenges that the former president’s team said they plan to file as part of their efforts to delay the lawsuit. Several major motions are scheduled to be filed by the defense on February 22, primarily as they attempt to strike out parts of the charges or have the case dismissed. But the defense team wants some of those filings to come later, saying they will rely on Canon’s decision on their access to classified records.