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High-stakes closed-door hearings on evidence in Trump Mar-a-Lago documents case set for Monday

High-stakes closed-door hearings on evidence in Trump Mar-a-Lago documents case set for Monday



The classified documents criminal case against Donald Trump and others intensifies again Monday with crucial hearings on access to evidence that could impact whether the former president will be tried before the November elections.

But even then, the proceedings before Judge Aileen Cannon in federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida, will not be public.

Trump arrived at the federal courthouse Monday morning as he and his lawyers plan to meet with Cannon for several hours in a closed-door hearing without prosecutors present to discuss the case in detail, according to court documents. Special Counsel Jack Smith's team will meet with Canon next.

Defense attorneys will argue for access to classified evidence in cases that they or their clients have not yet seen and prosecutors and intelligence agencies seek to withhold from them, potentially only giving them summaries of the information because of their sensitivity, according to the court filing.

While many files and proceedings relating to the Mar-a-Lago documents have been kept out of public view in recent weeks, prosecutors and defense teams are preparing for trial.

Defense teams have worked furiously in recent days, including Super Bowl Sunday, to prepare for Monday's hearing, draft motions and review evidence at a sensitive, compartmentalized information center called SCIF in Florida. , according to several sources close to the team. .

In addition to the upcoming hearing, they face a major court filing deadline less than two weeks away as they continue to strategize ways to delay the trial. They are also fighting with prosecutors to have the names of witnesses made public now, well before the trial.

Court cases containing classified evidence like this require careful oversight by the judge to ensure that defense teams can access the evidence they need to prepare for trial while protecting the government's national security secrets federal. This sometimes results in prolonged court proceedings to determine what classified evidence defense attorneys and even defendants can see. In the Trump case, the complexity of the case, the multiplicity of defendants and the number of classified files included in the evidence could lead to delays.

A hearing with Cannon on March 1 is expected to determine whether the trial can proceed in May as planned.

The Justice Department has previously said that what it sought to hide from Trump's co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, amounts to at least 5,500 pages, some of which their lawyers, Trump and his defense team may already working in a SCIF.

The records kept by the co-defendants are largely documents with classified markings found in boxes at Mar-a-Lago by the FBI in August 2022, according to court records. Lawyers for Nauta and De Oliveira argued they should be given greater access so they could meaningfully discuss the viability of their defense, an issue that will likely be discussed during the sealed proceeding on Monday.

A smaller group of documents is also being withheld from Trump and his lawyers because of the federal government's national security sensitivities. Cannon has already heard arguments from the special counsels office once in person and seen sworn statements from intelligence agencies about the need to keep certain documents secret, even from defense teams.

At a later date, Cannon will have to decide what evidence should be used in a public trial and how that information can be presented.

Debate on witness safety and delays

Tensions in the Mar-a-Lago case extend beyond defense teams' access to evidence. The special counsel's office is seeking to keep secret the names of witnesses who might be called to testify against Trump at trial, saying those witnesses could be harassed.

These witnesses include government officials from the National Archives, more than 20 FBI agents who were searching for Mar-a-Lago, people who had relationships with Trump and his co-defendants, and other career officials. Smith cited myriad threats against judges, prosecutors and witnesses, including a threat against a witness on social media that is the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

Although little information is public about the closed-door battles between Trump, his co-defendants and the special prosecutor, the former president has made clear he believes the drama of discovery and classified information should delay the scheduled date of the start of the trials in May.

Trump's attempt to delay the trial underlies several of his recent moves in court.

Smith has made his frustration with these attempts clear, recently writing in a court filing that the defense will stop at nothing to block adjudication of the charges against them by a fair and impartial jury of citizens.

Smith alleged that Trump was using a series of legal challenges that the former president's team had announced plans to file as part of his effort to delay the trial. Several major documents are expected from the defense on Feb. 22, largely in an effort to try to eliminate parts of the charges or have the case dismissed. But the defense team wants some of those documents to arrive later, saying they will rely on Cannon's decision regarding their access to classified files.

This story has been updated with additional information.




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