Judge in Trump’s documents case rejects bid to shield list of 84 witnesses from public

The government can’t conceal from the public the names of 84 witnesses it intends to use in its classified documents case against former President Donald Trump, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon acted quickly after a coalition of national and local news media filed a motion earlier in the day asking the court to address the efforts of Special Counsel Jack Smith to seal a list of potential witnesses who would testify against Trump. He is accused in a 37-count indictment of mishandling classified documents after he left office and allegedly obstructed the effort of investigators who sought their return. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In a paperless order that appeared in the court’s case docket, Cannon said the government lawyers, while seeking a special condition of bond restricting communications with the witnesses by Trump and co-defendant Waltine Nauta, had failed to justify sealing the list from public view.

“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.

She noted the defense took no position on the government’s seal request, but reserved the right “to object to the special condition and the manner by which the Government intends to implement it.”

Media group’s objections

The ruling came hours after a slew of national news organizations calling itself the Press Coalition registered their opposition to keeping the witnesses’ names shielded from the public. National organizations include the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN. South Florida area media include the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and Miami Herald.

The news organizations argued that the government’s filing of the list “is a highly significant initial step in this extraordinary prosecution.”

“It will mark the first time that the Court has instructed the Government to inform Trump of the identities of persons who may offer testimony that prosecutors believe will incriminate him,” the motion says. “At the same time, Trump’s counsel has made clear that many of these witnesses are long-time acquaintances and staffers, and he will now be forbidden, on pain of contempt, from discussing this case with them.”

“There can hardly be a criminal prosecution in which transparency matters more than when a former President is charged with multiple felonies, including from the alleged mishandling of classified national defense information and the alleged obstruction of justice,” the media groups argued.

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