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Judge in Trump Documents Case Denies Special Counsel Request to Keep Witness List Secret

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


Former President Donald Trump appears to have gotten his first legal victory in his classified documents case.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, whom he appointed to the federal bench, has denied special counsel Jack Smith’s request to keep secret a list of 84 potential witnesses whom Trump is barred from communicating with as the case proceeds, NBC News reported.

In her ruling, Judge Cannon pointed out that the prosecutors did not provide sufficient justification for why it was essential to maintain the anonymity of the names. Moreover, they failed to explain why redacting or partially sealing the document would not be an adequate alternative, she noted.

Trump’s legal team took “no position” on the government’s motion, Cannon noted. However, they retained the right to object to certain aspects of it, such as its execution or implementation, she said.

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NBC News noted further:

At Trump’s arraignment this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman ordered Trump to sign a bond prohibiting him from speaking to certain witnesses, except through his attorneys. Goodman also asked Smith’s team to provide a list of the witnesses Trump would be barred from communicating with directly.

In a filing Friday, the government said it had provided Trump’s attorneys with the list, and asked that the former president and Walt Nauta, a Trump aide and alleged co-conspirator in the case, sign an acknowledgement that they had received the list.

“In order to implement Judge Goodman’s special condition of release, the government hereby moves to file the list of witnesses subject to the prohibition under seal with the Court,” Jay Bratt, who is on Smith’s legal team, wrote in Friday’s filing.

Cannon’s decision was welcomed by several media organizations, including NBC News, The Associated Press, The New York Times, and CBS News, all of which argued that the former president’s case was of significant historical precedent that “cannot be overstated.” In addition, the witness list amounts to “a turning point from the secrecy of the Grand Jury investigation to the public administration of justice involving the highest level of power in American Government.”

“We are pleased that the Court recognized the First Amendment requires the government to meet a very high bar to seal any portion of these historic proceedings,” Chuck Tobin, an attorney for the press coalition, noted Monday in a statement.

NBC News added: “In a separate order Monday, Cannon set a July 14 hearing date to discuss how classified materials will be handled in the case, as requested by the government.”

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Also, Cannon approved the government’s request for the appointment of a classified information security officer to aid both parties in managing any motions or orders concerning the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Trump appeared in Miami earlier this month for his arraignment in the case brought against him by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who Biden’s Department of Justice appointed. Trump pleaded “not guilty” through his attorneys in federal court.

Smith charged Trump with 37 counts related to his handling of classified documents. If he is found guilty on all counts, Trump — who is President Joe Biden’s chief rival in next year’s presidential election — could face decades in prison.

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Not long after, Timothy Parlatore — who served as a criminal defense attorney for Trump until last month — spoke with Fox News host Laura Ingraham about Trump’s case, and offered a unique perspective.

Parlatore argued he believes there are fundamental flaws with the case, particularly over the grand jury process and breaches of attorney-client privilege. He also said he believes this could result in the entire case being thrown out.

Parlatore said Trump’s attorneys should “attack the conduct of the entire investigation and show through death by a thousand cuts why this entire investigation is irreparably tainted by government misconduct,” adding: “The case, therefore, should be dismissed or, at a minimum, the prosecutor should be disqualified.”

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