By Catherine Yang
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon canceled a scheduled Aug. 25 hearing and ordered a sealed hearing on a request for a protective order under the Classified Information Protection Act (CIPA) in a case the U.S. Department of Justice brought in Florida against former President Donald Trump, his aide Waltine Nauta, and his Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Oliveira for allegedly mishandling classified documents. All three have pleaded not guilty.
The hearing “will take place at a designated time and place to discuss sensitive, security-related issues concerning classified discovery,” she wrote in the Thursday order.
She ordered that any motion for a protective order to Mr. de Oliveira needs to be filed by Aug. 22 for consideration during the sealed hearing, at which defendants are not required to appear.
Last month, special counsel Jack Smith requested a protective order to restrict the information President Trump’s defense lawyers are able to share with him and his co-defendants.
“This case involves classified information,” read the July filing. “When classified information is involved, protective orders are to be issued whenever the government discloses classified information to a defendant in connection with a prosecution.”
President Trump opposed any order that would prevent discussing the case with his legal team, and asked for the approval of a secure location to do so.
He has asked for a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) to be restored at his Mar-a-Lago resort so that he and his legal team can discuss the classified information in the case regularly. There was previously one established, his lawyers said in an August filing, adding that the secure location has 24-hour security protection and they would use the space to discuss but not review classified information.
Mr. Smith’s team argued against the motion, calling it “extraordinary,” and that President Trump was seeking “special treatment that no other criminal defendant would receive and that is unsupported by law or precedent.”
President Trump’s team refuted the characterization that their request was “based on ‘inconvenience.'” Given the security protocol for President Trump’s travel, the “hurdles and costs” would make it “virtually impossible” for the legal team to discuss the case with their client otherwise, they argue.
In June, President Trump pleaded not guilty to 37 counts, and in late July three more felony charges of conspiring to delete evidence and another defendant were added, to which both President Trump and his property manager Mr. De Oliveira entered a plea of not guilty.
Judge Cannon has set a May 2024 trial date for the case, delaying the original December date she set after requests were made to push it back.
President Trump’s team originally wanted to move the case until after the 2024 presidential elections, where he is the GOP frontrunner against the incumbent president, and the judge appeared to strike a middle ground between the candidate and the DOJ’s requests.
Judge Cannon noted that at least 1.1 million pages of nonclassified discovery had already been produced, along with nine months of security footage, and 1,545 pages of classified documents were still to be produced.
“By conservative estimates, the amount of discovery in this case is voluminous and likely to increase in the normal course as trial approaches,” she said. “And, while the Government has taken steps to organize and filter the extensive discovery, no one disagrees that Defendants need adequate time to review and evaluate it on their own accord.”
President Trump is currently facing several other legal cases, including a January trial, also prosecuted by Mr. Smith, in Washington over alleged conspiracy in the 2020 elections, and a March trial over allegedly mishandling business finances in New York.
On Wednesday, two days after an indictment, Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis proposed a March 4, 2024 trial date, writing in a court filing that the proposed dates should avoid any conflict with President Trump’s other ongoing cases.
The start date falls on the day before the Republican presidential candidate is set to compete in the “Super Tuesday” primary contests across several states, which his supporters have used to amplify his claims of “election interference” from his political opponents.
“Remember, all of these Indictments, Federal, State, and Local, were conceived and generated by Crooked Joe Biden and his staff of Radical Left Lunatics and Thugs for purposes of interfering with the 2020 Presidential Election. None of these trials should be allowed to begin prior to the Election. Republicans must get tougher and smarter, FAST!” he wrote on Truth Social on Thursday, echoing his frequent claims that these cases would have otherwise been brought against him in 2021. Mr. Smith was appointed special counsel in November 2022, three days after President Trump announced his campaign for reelection.