In a significant development related to the case involving former President Donald Trump’s handling of sensitive government documents, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon issued a comprehensive 16-page protective order on Wednesday.
This order outlines a series of stringent restrictions governing where and how the former president and his legal team can access and discuss classified information as they prepare for their upcoming trial.
The protective order follows a sealed hearing held in Florida on Tuesday, where attorneys representing both the Justice Department and the former president appeared before Judge Cannon to discuss the government’s request.
Under the newly established rules, all classified information, whether produced, possessed, created, or disclosed by the government to Trump and his legal team, must be securely stored and maintained within a court-designated classified information security facility. These discussions can only take place within a specially designated location, known as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), or in an area explicitly authorized by the security officer designated by the court, according to the order.
The security officer’s responsibilities include ensuring the security arrangements necessary to prevent unauthorized disclosure of classified information accessible to Trump in connection with his case. Additionally, the security officer may provide guidance to the former president and his legal team regarding the handling and usage of sensitive materials.
Judge Cannon emphasized that any unauthorized disclosure or mishandling of classified information could potentially lead to violations of federal criminal law. A breach of the protective order might result in the immediate termination of an individual’s access to classified information.
Furthermore, such violations could be brought to the attention of the court, potentially resulting in contempt of court charges and referral for criminal prosecution. The judge underscored the potential grave consequences, as unauthorized disclosures of classified material could harm the national security of the United States or be exploited by foreign entities against U.S. interests.
Notably, Trump and his legal team had sought permission for his Mar-a-Lago property to be reinstated as a secure facility, similar to its status during his presidency, for discussions involving classified information. However, Judge Cannon ruled that classified materials, including sensitive information shared with Trump, must be restricted to an accredited SCIF or another authorized location as determined by the security officer.
Special counsel’s team attorneys had opposed Trump’s request, asserting that it would grant him “special treatment” as the only defendant in a case involving classified material who could discuss such sensitive information in a private residence. Prosecutors had previously pointed out that Trump was requesting to discuss classified information “at the very location where he is charged with willfully retaining the documents” central to the case.
Donald Trump faces 40 counts related to the alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago following his departure from office in January 2021. These charges include 32 counts of unlawful retention of national security information. Special counsel Jack Smith and his team contend that over 300 documents marked as classified were found at Trump’s South Florida property, with approximately 100 seized during a search warrant execution at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022.
The former president has maintained his not guilty plea, arguing that he had declassified the sensitive records before leaving office and considered them personal records exempt from submission to the National Archives and Records Administration. Judge Cannon has scheduled the trial to commence in May 2024.
The protective order highlights that all classified documents reviewed or provided to Trump and his legal team in connection with the case will remain classified unless clearly indicated as declassified by the originating agency or department. Additionally, it underscores that all classified documents accessible to Trump remain the property of the United States.
Judge Cannon’s order allows for potential challenges to the classification status of specific documents in question during the case, as well as defenses raised under the Presidential Records Act, which outlines requirements for information management during and after a presidential term.
The order also acknowledges that Trump’s legal team has received interim security clearances, permitting access to classified information designated as “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret.”