U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon on Tuesday relented to special counsel Jack Smith in a long-running dispute over the names of government witnesses in the classified documents case against former President Trump, agreeing to shield their identities from the public eye. 

Cannon only partially granted prosecutors’ request in agreeing to keep the names of FBI agents, Secret Service agents and other potential witnesses in the case under seal. In a 24-page order, the judge refused to categorically block witness statements from being disclosed, saying there was no basis for such a “sweeping” and “blanket” restriction on their inclusion in pretrial motions. 

Cannon rejected a request by Smith’s team to seal from pretrial motions the substance of all witness statements, except for information that could be used to identify witnesses.

“As for legal authority, the cases cited in the Special Counsel’s papers do not lend support to this sweeping request; nor do they appear to have been offered as such,” Cannon wrote. “And based on the Court’s independent research, granting this request would be unprecedented: the Court cannot locate any case — high-profile or otherwise — in which a court has authorized anything remotely similar to the sweeping relief sought here.”


Trump classified docs in Mar-a-Lago room

This image, contained in the indictment against former President Trump, shows boxes of records stored in a bathroom and shower in the Lake Room at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. (Justice Department via AP)

The disagreement between Smith’s team and lawyers for Trump, which had been pending for weeks, was one of many that had piled up before Cannon and had slowed the pace of the case against Trump. Tuesday’s order was the second time this month that Cannon was critical of Justice Department prosecutors, yet the judge still ruled mostly in their favor, The Washington Post reported.

The case remains without a firm trial date, though both sides have said they could be ready this summer. 

Cannon, who earlier decided to grant Trump’s request for an independent arbiter to review documents obtained during an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, made clear her continued skepticism of the DOJ theory of prosecution, saying Tuesday that the case raised “still-developing and somewhat muddled questions.”

In reconsidering an earlier order and siding with prosecutors on the protection of witness identities, Cannon likely averted a dramatic exacerbation of tensions with Smith’s team, which last week called a separate order from the judge “fundamentally flawed,” according to The Associated Press. 

trump and jack smith

A federal judge in former President Trump’s classified documents case granted special counsel Jack Smith’s request to redact witnesses’ names. (Getty Images)


The issue surfaced in January when defense lawyers filed in partially redacted form a motion that sought to require prosecutors to turn over a trove of documents that they said would bolster their claim that the Biden administration had sought to “weaponize” the government in charging Trump.

Defense lawyers asked permission to file the motion, which included as attachments information that they had obtained from prosecutors, in mostly unredacted form. However, prosecutors objected to unsealing the motion to the extent that it would reveal the identity of any potential government witness.

Judge Aileen Cannon speaking giving an interview.

Aileen Cannon, the Florida judge overseeing former President Trump’s classified documents case, pictured in a virtual interview.  (REUTERS)

Cannon then granted the defense’s request for the motion and its exhibits to be filed in unredacted form as long as the personal identifying information of witnesses remained sealed. Smith’s team asked her to reconsider, saying that witnesses could be exposed to threats and harassments if publicly identified.


In agreeing on Tuesday for the witness names to remain redacted, she wrote, “Although the record is clear that the Special Counsel could have, and should have, raised its current arguments previously, the Court elects, upon a full review of those newly raised arguments, to reconsider its prior Order.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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