The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s classified documents lawsuit just did the former president a massive favor in his efforts to delay the trial.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon—a Trump appointee—ruled Tuesday that special counsel Jack Smith’s team, which has been investigating Trump for hoarding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, must release some classified information to Trump’s lawyers during discovery. Those details include the names of certain potential witnesses, the conduct of some individuals (which they haven’t been charged for), and the FBI code name for a separate investigation.
Smith has opposed unsealing certain documents, arguing that doing so would give Trump an opportunity to seek even more information. That would delay the trial, which is currently scheduled to begin in May.
“Putting the special counsel to his proof and requiring him to turn square corners in discovery is likely to slow and prolong the proceedings, advantaging Defendants’ strategy of delay,” Anthony Alfieri, a University of Miami School of Law professor, told Newsweek in a story published Thursday.
Cannon’s decision “indicates that she intends to closely scrutinize the evidentiary grounds put forward by the Special Counsel” when Smith tries to redact or keep sealed documents requested by Trump’s lawyers, Alfieri said.
Trump was charged in Florida with keeping national defense secrets, making false statements, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, among other things, for hoarding classified materials at Mar-a-Lago. His body man, Walt Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira have also been charged.
Cannon received nationwide scrutiny at the start of the investigation after she appeared favorably inclined to the former president. Trump filed a motion requesting a “special master” review all of the material the FBI found at Mar-a-Lago before the investigation could proceed, and Cannon agreed—a victory for Team Trump.
The Justice Department appealed the decision, and the Eleventh Circuit Court ultimately ruled that neither Cannon nor Trump had had any legal right for their actions. The appeals court threw Cannon’s decision out entirely.
But Tuesday’s ruling could backfire on her. Before she issued her decision, Roger Parloff, the senior editor of Lawfare, warned that granting Trump’s request would be “highly controversial” and could spur more intense scrutiny of Cannon.
After Cannon ruled, Parloff noted that Smith’s team could file an interlocutory appeal based on the impression that Cannon has been too favorable to Trump. Cannon could potentially be removed from the case altogether.