Judge Strikes One Element From Trump Indictment in Documents Case

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Judge Strikes One Element From Trump Indictment in Documents Case


A federal judge on Monday slightly limited the classified documents case against former President Donald J. Trump, saying prosecutors cannot charge him based on an episode in which he gave a highly sensitive message to a political adviser months after he left office Military map is said to have shown.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s decision was more of a swipe at prosecutors under special counsel Jack Smith, who prosecuted the case, than a major blow to the allegations against Mr. Trump. Even though Judge Cannon technically removed the incident from the 53-page indictment, prosecutors may still be able to present evidence of it to the jury if the case ultimately goes to trial.

The incident that Judge Cannon denounced occurred in August or September 2021 at a meeting at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. During the meeting, prosecutors say, Mr. Trump showed a secret map related to an ongoing military operation to a representative of his political action committee, widely believed to be Susie Wiles, now a top adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign is.

When he showed the map, Mr. Trump told Ms. Wiles that the military campaign was not going well, according to prosecutors. The indictment noted that she did not have a security clearance at the time, nor was she required to have “any information” about the classified information regarding the campaign.

While the map episode is an indication of Trump’s lax handling of classified materials, it did not play a central role in the formal allegations in the case. These focus on his removal from the White House of nearly three dozen documents containing sensitive national security secrets and his repeated attempts to prevent the government from removing them from Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence Florida, to bring back.

Although Judge Cannon struck the card incident from the indictment, she left untouched a similar allegation that allegedly occurred at Trump’s Bedminster property several months earlier. In that episode, prosecutors said, the former president revealed a secret battle plan to a group of people who had come to interview him for a paper written by his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

“As president, I could have released it,” Mr. Trump said of the battle plan, according to a recording he made that day. “Well, I can’t, you know. But that’s still a secret.”

It’s likely that Judge Cannon allowed that claim to remain part of the indictment because prosecutors ultimately accused Mr. Trump of illegally holding out on the secret plan.

But Mr. Trump’s lawyers had challenged the inclusion of the map as part of a broader attack on the impeachment, saying it was inconsequential and irrelevant. They argued that it should never have been part of the indictment because Mr. Trump was not formally accused of unlawfully disclosing classified material to other people, only that he illegally retained it after leaving the White House.

In her ruling, Judge Cannon rejected the attorneys’ request to dismiss the charges in their entirety. But she noted that prosecutors had taken on additional responsibility by deciding to charge Mr. Trump in the case with a so-called “speaking indictment” — an indictment that describes events in evocative language rather than just listing dry violations of the law.

She said she agreed with Mr. Trump’s lawyers, who had argued that much of the language in the indictment – including the episode about the map – was “legally unnecessary” and that “risks may arise from a prosecutor’s decision to to include them in a charging document.” a detailed narrative presentation of his or her view of the facts.”

Judge Cannon added that it was “not appropriate” to include the story about the card in the indictment because one of Mr. Smith’s top deputies admitted at a hearing last month that she was not directly involved in the charges against Mr. Trump is confronted, is related.

During the hearing in federal district court in Fort Pierce, Florida, Deputy Jay I. Bratt told Judge Cannon that prosecutors did not classify the incident as impeachable conduct, but rather as an indication of the former president’s penchant for reckless handling of classified material .

Mr. Bratt said the evidence was admissible under so-called Rule 404(b) of federal criminal procedure, which allows prosecutors to inform the jury about a defendant’s “bad deeds” that are not directly part of the charge in a case.

Judge Cannon appeared skeptical of Mr. Bratt’s argument during the hearing.

“Do you normally include 404(b)s in indictments?” she asked.

When Mr. Bratt said he had included similar evidence in other prosecutions, Judge Cannon shot back: “Is that right?”

Judge Cannon left open the possibility that prosecutors might eventually present the story about the map to jurors at trial. But they must first get their permission to do so, and Mr Trump’s lawyers can object to the request.

Her decision to ax the episode marked the first time she withdrew the charges against Mr. Trump. Through his lawyers, the former president has launched a barrage of attacks on the prosecution, and Judge Cannon has ruled on three of them so far, including this one, rejecting them all.

Shortly before midnight on Monday, Mr Trump’s lawyers filed another motion challenging the charges. The latter accused Mr. Smith’s prosecutors of improperly storing boxes of documents that the FBI removed from Mar-a-Lago after executing a search warrant at the property in August 2022.

The lawyers claimed that the federal agents who seized the boxes did not follow the order of the documents contained within them and did not take photographs that would have served as “alternative evidence of the order of the documents in each box.”

Additionally, the attorneys argued that prosecutors misled Judge Cannon on at least two occasions by telling her that “the order of the documents in each box was intact,” while in fact some boxes were not.

Lawyers have long pointed to the boxes containing a mix of top-secret materials and routine items like letters and newspaper clippings as evidence that they were haphazardly packaged and that Mr. Trump had little idea what was inside. And they claimed that prosecutors undermined that defense by allowing the order of items in some boxes to be changed.

“The prosecution team violated President Trump’s due process rights by failing to preserve the documents intact and in the same order in which they were found during the raid,” the lawyers wrote.

In court papers filed last month, prosecutors attributed the slight movements to the fact that some of the boxes contained small items such as index cards, books and stationery, which, as they put it, “move easily when the boxes are carried, especially because many of the boxes are not full.”

Prosecutors also noted that the order of documents in some boxes may have changed during a review by an independent arbitrator months before charges were filed in the case. This review, requested by Mr. Trump himself and ordered by Judge Cannon, was conducted to weed out any documents that may have been protected by executive privilege.



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2024-06-11 08:02:51

www.nytimes.com