Monday, a federal judge denied special counsel Jack Smith’s request to keep secret the identities of 84 witnesses the government intends to summon in its case against former President Donald Trump.
Trump has been accused of mishandling classified information. When he was arraigned on the allegations, he was forbidden from contacting witnesses or discussing the case with his co-defendant, longtime aide Walt Nauta.
The week prior, prosecutors filed a request for the witness list to be kept confidential and for Trump to sign a document acknowledging his understanding that those on the list could not be contacted.
The request was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon on Monday.
“The Government’s Motion does not explain why filing the list with the Court is necessary; it does not offer a particularized basis to justify sealing the list from public view; 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 seal,” Cannon wrote, according to Insider.
Julie Kelly, a journalist, tweeted to her 440,000 followers that the decision was a “smackdown.” She also alluded to the outrage of progressive media outlets and politicians upon hearing that Cannon had been appointed to the case by rotation of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
In 2020, Trump appointed Cannon to the federal judiciary.
“This is why they want to get rid of Judge Aileen Cannon in classified docs case,” Kelly wrote. “Her first smackdown of Special Counsel Jack Smith.”
BREAKING: This is why they want to get rid of Judge Aileen Cannon in classified docs case. Her first smackdown of Special Counsel Jack Smith:
"PAPERLESS ORDER denying without prejudice Government's Motion to Implement Special Condition of Release. The Government seeks an order…
— Julie Kelly 🇺🇸 (@julie_kelly2) June 26, 2023
Another poster, using the handle “The Last Refuge,” wrote to more than 250,000 followers that, “It was/is a trap to keep Trump from public speaking, lest one of the 84 witnesses watch television and view communication from the defendant…. ie. Lawfare.”
It was/is a trap to keep Trump from public speaking, lest one of the 84 witnesses watch television and view communication from the defendant…. ie. Lawfare. https://t.co/ppUXyr0BFG
— TheLastRefuge (@TheLastRefuge2) June 26, 2023
On Monday, a group of news media organizations filed paperwork to make the witness list public, describing the case as “one of the most consequential criminal cases in the nation’s history.”
“The American public’s interest in this matter, and need to monitor its progress every step of the way, cannot be overstated,” the media outlets wrote, according to The New York Times, which is one of the organizations involved.
Former Justice Department attorney David Aaron, who prosecuted national security cases, told The Washington Post that the trial includes multiple orders on procedural issues.
“There are going to be a lot of ministerial orders that are administrative or scheduling or procedural. This is a trial, and not everyone agrees how these things should be done. So people shouldn’t get too excited about each one of these,” he said.
Former federal prosecutor in Miami, Joseph A. DeMaria, stated that the special counsel’s request was atypical.
“All they said is they want this to be filed under seal,” DeMaria told The Washington Post. “That’s not how we do it in Florida.”
The order prohibiting Trump from contacting witnesses may have less significance than it appears, Trump’s attorney Mark Zaid said after his arraignment, observing that Trump’s post-arraignment speech was “one of a number of atypical circumstances that will plague this case,” according to USA Today.
“Few defendants would have an opportunity to speak to a co-defendant or witness in a manner that Trump will have available,” he said.
He said the court will need to monitor Trump’s public speeches to determine if private, forbidden messages are being sent.
“Should Trump make comments at an event attended by Nauta, or perhaps through television or social media, and it appears that very clear messages, if not instructions, are being made that would be deemed inappropriate if the two were meeting privately, I would expect prosecutors to revisit this issue before the judge for further clarification or expansion of the scope of the gag order,” he said.