Former President Donald Trump will be restricted on how and when he can look at, and talk about, classified information, a judge decided Wednesday after a sealed hearing the day before.
The decision appears to largely be in line with restrictions special counsel Jack Smith sought to protect classified information that may be evidence in the case against Trump, which accuses him of criminally mishandling sensitive national security secrets at his Florida club and residence after he left office.
The development is one of the first times the court has set terms around classified information in a case where Trump’s team has tried to downplay the seriousness of how records were handled. Trump’s legal team had wanted more leeway on the locations where they could discuss classified records with him, including at the Mar-a-Lago club and his Bedminster, New Jersey, residence.
Judge Aileen Cannon warned in her order of the consequences should any classified or otherwise sensitive information be improperly revealed to the public, pointing out such disclosures may violate the law.
She added that even if classified information “enters the public domain,” both Trump and his team will still be “precluded from making private or public statements” regarding the classified status of information or suggesting that their own access to information confirms or contradicts what’s in the public domain.
Trump already has several restrictions on how he can look at and not disseminate evidence he learns from prosecutors in his various criminal proceedings as he and his lawyers prepare for trial and receive masses of information collected by prosecutors.
Cannon held a sealed hearing about the handling of classified information in the case on Tuesday in South Florida, according to multiple sources familiar with the proceeding.
Though Trump’s team and the Justice Department prosecutors had argued publicly in filings what they wanted on the topic of classified evidence handling, Cannon decided she would not announce the hearing or its location publicly, and would not permit the public to observe the proceeding.
Cannon’s order doesn’t say if one of the areas where Trump can handle records, called a SCIF or sensitive compartmented information facility, would be established at the Trump properties, like he had had during his presidency.
But the judge said the SCIF areas would be overseen by a third-party officer from the federal government designated to guide the handling of the classified information in the federal case.
Cannon’s order on Wednesday also specifies that apparently classified information in the case that hasn’t clearly been identified as being declassified should be treated with sensitivity. Her order, however, also allowed for Trump to challenge in court “purported classification status of certain documents.” Any challenge would be subject to further court proceedings.
Trump and his team at times have tried to say the former president declassified much of the national security information he kept at the end of his presidency. But an audio recording first revealed by CNN that has become part of the case captures Trump acknowledging he had classified records he couldn’t share widely after his presidency ended.
Trump’s co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, will be subject to stricter rules than the former president himself. Nauta’s and Olivera’s lawyers will be able to view the classified information in a SCIF while following certain protocols.
However, the defendants themselves – unlike Trump – will not be able to view the materials in the SCIF without obtaining a specific court order allowing them to do so, Cannon said.
Cannon also asked for additional briefing on the rules Nauta and de Olivera should be subject to under the relevant law, the Classified Information Procedures Act. Those briefs are due September 25.
Cannon made one carveout for now in her order for Nauta. She said the government had agreed to disclose to him an unredacted version of a particular photo included in the indictment. Otherwise, “any future classified disclosures” to Nauta or De Oliveira “shall be governed by subsequent order,” Cannon said in her orders for each of the defendants.
Nauta’s attorney had argued his client should be able to view the classified evidence himself and should not be required to get special permission from the court or the government for each piece of classified evidence he would like to access. The special counsel opposed that request, even as prosecutors were not opposed to allowing Trump to view the classified materials. The prosecutors cited Trump’s status as former president, and the access he had to classified information when he was in the White House, as a reason his situation was distinct from Nauta. They also noted that, unlike Trump, Nauta has not been charged with illegally retaining the documents. Rather, Nauta and De Oliveira face charges stemming from alleged efforts to obstruct the investigation into the government records.
Trump, Nauta and De Oliveira have all pleaded not guilty.
This story has been updated with additional details.