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Judge in documents case lays out rules for Trump’s access to classified information in lead-up to trial

Washington — The federal judge overseeing the case involving former President Donald Trump’s handling of sensitive government documents on Wednesday laid out a series of restrictions over where and how the former president can review and discuss classified information with his lawyers as they prepare for their upcoming trial.

The 16-page protective order was issued by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who granted a request from special counsel Jack Smith that laid out procedures Trump and his lawyers must follow when handling classified information disclosed to them in connection with the case.

The order comes after lawyers for the Justice Department and the former president appeared before Cannon in Florida on Tuesday for a sealed hearing about the government’s request.

Under the rules laid out by Cannon on Wednesday, all classified information “produced, possessed, created or maintained” by Trump and his legal team or disclosed to them by the government must be stored and kept in a secure facility established by a court-designated classified information security officer. Classified information can only be discussed within the secure location, formally known as a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, “or in an area authorized” by the security officer, according to the order.

The security officer is tasked with providing security arrangements necessary to protect against the unauthorized disclosure of classified information made available to Trump in connection with his case, and can provide guidance to the former president and his lawyers regarding the handling and use of sensitive materials.

Cannon warned that “any unauthorized disclosure or mishandling of classified information may constitute violations of federal criminal law,” and a breach of the protective order could result in “termination of an individual’s access to classified information.”

“Any violation of the terms of this Order shall be brought immediately to the attention of the Court and may result in a charge of contempt of Court and possible referral for criminal prosecution,” she said, adding that an unauthorized disclosure of classified material “could cause serious damage, and in some cases exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States, or may be used to the advantage of a foreign nation against the interests of the United States.”

Trump and his lawyers had requested that his Mar-a-Lago property be reestablished as a secure facility — it was during his presidency — where he could discuss classified information. The judge said that classified material, including sensitive information discussed with Trump, must be confined to an accredited SCIF or other location authorized by the security officer.

Lawyers with the special counsel’s team had opposed Trump’s request to discuss classified information at Mar-a-Lago and argued he was seeking “special treatment,” as he would be the only defendant in a case involving classified material who would be allowed to discuss that sensitive information in a private residence.

Prosecutors also noted in a July filing that Trump was asking to discuss classified information “in the very location at which he is charged with willfully retaining the documents charged in this case.”

Trump is charged with 40 counts stemming from alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents that were recovered from Mar-a-Lago after he left office in January 2021, including 32 counts of unlawful retention of national security information. Smith and his team allege that more than 300 documents marked classified were retrieved from Trump’s South Florida property, including roughly 100 seized during the execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in Aug. 2022.

The former president has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He has argued that he declassified the sensitive records before leaving office and deemed them to be personal records that did not have to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of his presidency.

Cannon has scheduled the trial to begin in May 2024.

The protective order issued by Cannon notes that all the classified documents that will be reviewed or made available to Trump and his lawyers in connection with the case “shall remain classified unless the documents or material bear a clear indication that they have been declassified by the agency or department that is the originating agency of the document, material, or information contained therein.”

It also states that all classified documents that Trump has access to “are now and will remain the property of the United States.”

Cannon noted that the order allows potential challenges to the “purported classification status of certain documents at issue” in the case, or to defenses raised under the Presidential Records Act. The law lays out requirements for maintaining, accessing and preserving information during and after a presidency.

Trump’s lawyers have received at least interim security clearances, the order states, which allow them access to classified information designated “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret.”

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