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After months, Judge Cannon agrees to shield Trump witness names

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon agreed Tuesday to end a long-running dispute with prosecutors over whether government-agent witnesses in Donald Trump’s classified documents criminal trial should be publicly identified in court filings.

Her order was the second time this month she has criticized Justice Department lawyers while ruling mostly in their favor.

Special counsel Jack Smith has spent months trying to convince Cannon to keep under seal the names of FBI agents, Secret Service agents, and other potential witnesses in the case, which charges Trump with mishandling classified documents and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them from Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home and private club.

Initially, Cannon ruled against Smith, but on Tuesday she relented, saying she would agree to keeping the names and identifying information under seal. It was not a total victory for Smith, however, because the judge also ruled that the substance of the witness statements can be made public in filings, so long as the material did not identify the witnesses or other people who are mentioned.

“Although the Special Counsel’s request remains sweeping in nature as applied to all potential government witnesses without differentiation… the Court is satisfied that the Special Counsel has made an adequate showing on this issue” for now, Cannon wrote in her 24-page ruling.

She ordered Smith to submit an index that uses a generic substitute term — like FBI Agent 1 — for the individuals referenced in the court filings.

The judge also chided Smith for what she said were poorly made legal arguments in the early stages of the discussion. She said his later efforts offered better reasons to keep the names out of the public eye.

Smith had argued that making such information public would lead to harassment and possible intimidation of the witnesses in the case.

A coalition of media groups had pressed for the information to be made public, given the intense public interest in the case, and the stakes of Trump — a former president and the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee — going on trial.

“The Special Counsel’s response did not object to the Press Coalition’s invocation of First Amendment principles, did not meaningfully engage with any of the legal standards, and did not offer any additional factual support,” Cannon noted in her order.

The issue of redactions in court filings — particularly exhibits attached to pre-trial defense motions filed in the case — has lingered since January, and complicated the other legal fights that have to be decided before trial.

Last week, Cannon denied Trump’s bid to have the charges dismissed based on his claim that the Presidential Records Act barred his prosecution. That ruling came after Smith urged the judge to rule quickly on the issue, saying she was pursuing a “wrong” legal theory related to jury instructions that he might have to appeal quickly to a higher court.

Cannon agreed to dismiss Trump’s defense motion but suggested Smith’s criticism of her legal exploration was “unprecedented and unjust.”

The judge has yet to decide on a trial date for the high-profile case or a number of other pre-trial legal issues. Prosecutors have suggested the trial could begin in early July, while Trump’s lawyers have argued it should start no earlier than August.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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