OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
The federal judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s classified documents case handed special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors another stinging defeat earlier this week.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon brutally rejected a request by prosecutors to deny defense attorneys access to certain documents and materials during the discovery process. In a ruling, she said that Smith’s team’s efforts to restrict discovery were based on a “broad and unconvincing theory” as well as an “atextual” and “almost blithe” interpretation of the corresponding federal statute, The Western Journal reported.
The request comes after Smith charged Trump valet Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira with conspiring with the former president to retain classified documents at his South Florida home illegally.
In her Wednesday ruling, Cannon said the Office of Special Counsel too broadly interpreted the Classified Information Procedures Act, saying it did not comport with a plain reading of the statute.
She noted in her ruling that Smith’s team wants to restrict Nauta and De Oliveira “almost entirely from reviewing classified discovery to be produced in the case, and then placing the burden to justify otherwise on defense counsel.”
Smith’s team cited Section 3 of the CIPA law to make their request, which states: “Upon motion of the United States, the court shall issue an order to protect against the disclosure of any classified information disclosed by the United States to any defendant in any criminal case in a district court of the United States.”
Cannon, a Trump appointee, ruled that a simple reading of the law doesn’t support Smith’s position — that attorneys for the defendants should be restricted across the board from reviewing documents that would be used at trial as proof that they mishandled classified documents.
The judge noted that the CIPA statute distinguishes between the defendants themselves and their lawyers.
“In the OSC’s view, even though Section 3 refers to ‘defendant’ — and even though Congress elsewhere in CIPA specifically referred to ‘any attorney of the defendant’ as distinct from ‘the defendant,’ see CIPA § 2 — the Court nevertheless must read the term ‘the defendant’ in Section 3 to mean ‘attorney for the defendant’ and then simultaneously interpret Section 3 to exclude ‘the defendant’ facing criminal indictment, at least in cases where the government proffers a basis to object to such disclosure pretrial,” she wrote in her ruling.
She then labeled the special counsel’s position a “broad and atextual interpretation” of the law.
Cannon went on to instruct Smith’s prosecutors that if they continue seeking to restrict the defense attorneys’ classified documents access, they would have to do so on a document-by-document basis, citing Section 4 of the CIPA statute, The Western Journal noted.
In part, the section reads: “The court, ‘upon a sufficient showing,’ [may] authorize the United States to delete specified items of classified information from documents to be made available to the defendant through discovery.”
“So again, we are left with the OSC’s broad and unconvincing theory, which is that the Court must change the meaning of the word ‘defendant’ to mean, essentially, ‘defense attorney to the exclusion of defendant.’ The Court declines to do so,” Cannon wrote.
“In the end, whatever the contours of the OSC’s broad theory prohibiting a defendant’s access to discoverable information, the answer is not to change the natural meaning of a statutory word in Section 3 but rather to use the mechanism provided in CIPA to handle matters related to restricting discovery, which in the case of CIPA is Section 4,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Cannon dropped a hint that she could potentially delay Trump’s trial until after the 2024 election, which is currently scheduled to begin on May 20, 2024.
“I’m just having a hard time seeing how realistically this work can be accomplished in this compressed period of time, given the realities that we’re facing,” she said during a hearing.