U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon Approves Special Counsel’s Request, but Orders Sharing of Material ‘Helpful’ to Trump

On March 22, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon made a ruling regarding a request from special counsel Jack Smith in the high-profile classified documents case against former President Donald Trump.

The judge determined that information helpful to the defense may have to be shared in some form but information she deemed irrelevant to the case could be deleted from discovery.

To make these determinations, the judge reviews the special counsel’s “sworn representations of sensitivity and privilege” in the documents, but the material is still allowed to be disclosed when it is “relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused.”

“In seeking to withhold classified information from discovery under Section 4, all parties agree that the Special Counsel bears the burden of proof,” Judge Cannon wrote.

In a 21-page sealed order, Judge Cannon described the classified information at issue, while an 8-page public version was also submitted, outlining four document categories.

“The Court GRANTS the Special Counsel’s Motion as to Categories 3 and 4 in their entirety, as well as most of the Category 2 requests,” the judge wrote. “The Court RESERVES RULING on the entirety of Category 1 and the few remaining Category 2 requests, pending resolution of certain issues raised in Defendants’ Motions to Compel Discovery.”

The legal teams representing the special counsel and former president have been litigating over access to classified information throughout the duration of this case. Part of the case alleges that President Trump unlawfully retained classified documents.

In a recent court order, the judge instructed the parties to undertake a legal exercise by submitting jury instructions and proposed verdicts. These scenarios include one where the prosecutors must prove that President Trump did not have authorization.

For months, the defense has contended that the prosecutors haven’t provided the necessary discovery materials, whereas the prosecutors have countered by claiming they’re not obligated to share certain information or that it falls outside the scope of the case.

The Category 3 documents relate “to a potential government witness,” and Judge Cannon found they contained information helpful and relevant to the defense, because they have “potential impeachment value.”

Prosecutors will be allowed to submit a summary of the classified information, instead of the original documents, as long as these summaries “will provide the defendant with substantially the same ability to make his defense as would disclosure of the classified information.”

Category 4 documents were ones the judge deemed “not specific to any charged document,” and ones the special counsel said would not be used at trial. Prosecutors requested deleting all these documents from discovery, and the judge granted the request.

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“Even assuming the information crosses the low hurdle of relevance, the Court is satisfied that it would not be helpful to Defendants,” Judge Cannon wrote. “Any theory of helpfulness would depend, as best the Court can tell, on series of speculative and attenuated inferences.”

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By Hunter Fielding
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