Former President Donald Trump and his lawyers can only review classified evidence in a secure place as he prepares for a criminal trial.
Former President Donald Trump and his lawyers can only review classified evidence in a secure place as he prepares for a criminal trial over his alleged mishandling of documents after he left the White House in 2020, according to a judge’s ruling issued Wednesday.
The former president, also the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, was charged along with two aides with illegally storing troves of classified documents at his personal residence and lying to federal investigators who sought to retrieve them. Last year, the FBI carried out an unprecedented raid on his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, home before a special counsel was named to investigate.
In court papers, President Trump’s lawyers had opposed strict security protocols for the classified evidence as inconvenient, saying he and his attorneys should be able to review them in his office at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
“The Court finds that this case will involve information that has been classified in the interest of national security. The storage, handling, and control of this information will require special security precautions mandated by statute, executive order, and regulation,” the judge, who was appointed by President Trump, wrote in her order.
And President Trump, she ruled: “may have a continuing contractual obligation to the government not to disclose to any unauthorized person classified information known to them or in their possession,” adding that federal prosecutors are also “entitled to enforce that agreement to maintain the confidentiality of classified information.”
What’s more, “No court personnel required by this Court for its assistance shall have access to classified information involved in this case unless that person shall first have received the necessary security clearance,” Judge Cannon added.
Her ruling is a win for federal prosecutors who had sought to prevent the disclosure of “classified national security information” and materials that are to be reviewed by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) counsel and President Trump’s lawyers.
In July, prosecutors filed court papers requesting a protective order in a bid “to prevent the unauthorized use, disclosure or dissemination of classified national security information and documents that will be reviewed by or made available to, or are otherwise in the possession of, Defendant and defense counsel.”
The motion also stipulated that there is no basis for President Trump’s request to be granted authority to discuss classified materials at his Mar-a-Lago residence, although he was the former commander-in-chief.
“It is particularly striking that he seeks permission to do so in the very location at which he is charged with willfully retaining the documents charged in this case,” they said, adding, “Defendant Trump’s personal residences and offices are not lawful locations for the discussion of classified information, any more than they would be for any private citizen.”
That filing also stated President Trump’s co-defendant in the case, Walt Nauta, also is seeking full access to classified discovery. However, Mr. Nauta isn’t charged with unlawfully retaining documents relating to national defense, unlike President Trump, they wrote, adding that Mr. Nauta has no need to review the information.
“While defendant Trump is charged with violating [code section] by unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense, defendant Nauta is not,” the government said in its filing. “Defendant Trump’s counsel may need to discuss classified documents with defendant Trump to formulate their defense strategy.”
Prosecutors wrote at the time that classified materials should only be discussed and reviewed in federal sensitive compartmented information facilities, known as SCIFs. The motion came at the same time that Mr. Smith released a superseding indictment that charged President Trump with three additional counts, including alleged obstruction of justice.
In response, President Trump’s lawyers wrote in August that the classified documents case is “complex and exceptional” with a significant amount of discovery material. It would be impractical for the former president and his lawyers to go to a SCIF to mount their defense case, arguing that he should be able to see the materials at a “previously approved facility at or near his residence.”
U.S. Secret Service officers are also stationed at Mar-a-Lago, they wrote.
“This request is based on the immense practical and logistical hurdles and costs that make it virtually impossible for President Trump to make regular trips to a public facility to discuss classified discovery material with counsel as necessary to conduct a defense consistent with the rights afforded by the Constitution,” his team wrote.
President Trump was charged in an indictment in June with criminal counts, including violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and making false statements to investigators. The former president has pleaded guilty and denied the charges, along with his co-defendants.
He is also under indictment in Washington, D.C., and Fulton County, Georgia over his actions following the 2020 election. Earlier this year, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted him for allegedly falsifying business records during the 2016 election.
President Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing in all the cases. He has argued they are part of a political plot to prevent him from retaking the White House in the November 2024 election.
Reuters contributed to this report.