The federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump on charges of unlawful withholding of sensitive national security documents on Monday rejected the government’s request to keep secret a list of witnesses with whom Trump has been barred from discussing his case. case.
The ruling by Judge Aileen M. Cannon, in the Southern District of Florida, means that part or all of the list of 84 witnesses could at some point be made public, offering more details about the shape and scope of the case than the prosecutor special Jack Smith has filed against Mr. Trump.
The government’s request to withhold the names of the witnesses “provides no particular basis to justify sealing the list from public view,” Judge Cannon wrote in her brief order. “It does not explain why partial sealing, redaction, or means other than sealing are unavailable or unsatisfactory, and it does not specify the duration of any proposed sealing.”
One of the conditions a federal judge placed on Trump when he walked free from his arraignment this month was a provision that prohibited him from discussing the facts of his indictment with any witnesses in the case. The indictment accused Trump of knowingly withholding 31 individual national security documents and obstructing the government’s repeated efforts to recover them.
While the identities of the witnesses are unknown, many of them are believed to be close aides and advisers to Trump, including several who work or worked with him at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida. As part of the conditions the trial judge imposed, Trump was also barred from discussing the case with his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, who remains his personal assistant.
Last week, when Smith’s prosecutors turned over the witness list to Trump’s legal team, they asked Judge Cannon if they could keep the names under wraps. In their request, prosecutors noted that Trump’s lawyers had not taken a position on the request to seal the list.
Then, on Monday, a group of media companies, including The New York Times, filed their own motion asking Judge Cannon to make the list public, saying the case against Trump was “one of the most important criminal cases in the nation’s history. ”
“The interest of the American public in this matter and the need to monitor its progress every step of the way cannot be overstated,” the news organizations wrote.
In her ruling, Judge Cannon said the media’s request was moot, given that she had denied the government’s request for a seal. It was not clear in the judge’s order whether Mr. Smith’s office would ultimately release the witness list, perhaps redacted in some way, in a public file or whether prosecutors simply could not prevent Mr. Trump’s lawyers from making it public. the list of names should they choose to do so.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Smith, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
In a separate order issued Monday, Judge Cannon asked Trump’s legal team to respond by July 6 to Smith’s request to delay the start of the trial until December 11.
Judge Cannon also scheduled a hearing for July 14 for the parties to discuss how to handle the significant amount of highly confidential material involved in the case under a law known as the Classified Information Procedures Act. That hearing will take place mostly, if not entirely, under seal.