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Mar-a-Lago documents case: Trump lawyers are in court for a closed hearing in Florida

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Lawyers for former President Trump were in Florida today, along with a team from the special counsel's office, for a hearing in Trump's documents case. One of his four indictments is for withholding and concealing classified and top-secret documents at his Palm Beach club and residence, Mar-a-Lago. NPR's Greg Allen is following this case from Miami. Greg, good morning.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the hearing about?

ALLEN: Well, this hearing, which is scheduled for today and tomorrow - it's closed to the media and the public. That's 'cause it will deal with how much, if any, of the classified material that Trump is charged with withholding and concealing will be available for his defense. Trump, as - you know, as you recall, is charged with conspiring with an aide and Mar-a-Lago's property manager to hide boxes that contain classified and top-secret documents for federal investigators.

It's not exactly clear what information Trump's lawyers will ask for today's hearing. They have security clearances and can see nearly everything. The question is how much of this will be allowed to be used, perhaps in some redacted form, in his defense.

But last week, Judge Aileen Cannon surprised many legal observers, including special counsel Jack Smith, when she gave Trump's lawyers permission to unseal nonclassified but sensitive information that up to now hasn't been made public.

INSKEEP: She has surprised a lot of observers with what seemed like pro-Trump rulings and even been reversed on appeal from time to time. So what information does she say can be made public?

ALLEN: Well, she said that Trump's lawyers could file briefs that would mention by name some of the people who were interviewed by prosecutors - some of whom may eventually appear as witnesses at trial, but even some who may not. Legal experts I spoke with say that's highly unusual in a case like this one, that's still in the early pretrial phase. Special counsel Jack Smith asked Judge Cannon to reconsider her ruling, but she's declined at this point. Revealing the names of potential witnesses, Smith said in his brief, would expose them to, quote, "significant and immediate risks of threats, intimidation and harassment," and that's already happened, he said. The special counsel says threats have been made against a potential witness in this case, and there's an ongoing investigation into that. I talked about all this with David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor.

DAVID WEINSTEIN: It seems to me that in, some small way, it's meant to intimidate these witnesses that - you know, fine. You know, you will eventually have to come and testify at trial, but we're going to put your names out there now.

ALLEN: In that brief, Jack Smith says that Judge Cannon made a legal error, and that's all the backdrop for today's closed-door hearing.

INSKEEP: How does this fit in with Judge Cannon's other rulings in this case?

ALLEN: Right. Well, we haven't heard from the special counsel on this, but certainly, lots of outside experts say this is part of a pattern that she's exhibited. Even before she took the case, Judge Cannon was reversed and rebuked by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for exceeding her authority in appointing a special master to examine the Mar-a-Lago documents. Since receiving the case, she's repeatedly pushed back deadlines, delaying the proceedings, and has ruled against the government in some pretrial motions. Norm Eisen, a former White House lawyer, says he believes that special counsel Jack Smith should seek Judge Cannon's recusal from the case.

NORM EISEN: Judge Cannon is way over the line, and she should be removed by the 11th Circuit. It's up to Jack Smith to queue up that matter for their determination.

INSKEEP: Is it still possible this case could go to trial in May as scheduled?

ALLEN: I'm hearing that it's not, with extensive back-and-forth over these classified documents and possibility of appeals. One attorney I spoke with says it might not begin until November after the election. One thing that could possibly speed it all up is if Judge Cannon is recused and another judge takes over.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Allen. Thanks so much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Greg Allen
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.