Judge removes part of Trump indictment in documents case

A federal judge on Monday narrowed the classified documents case against former President Donald J. Trump slightly, saying prosecutors cannot charge him based on an episode in which he allegedly showed a highly sensitive military card to a political advisor months after leaving office.

The decision by the judge, Aileen M. Cannon, was more of a blow to the prosecutors working for the special prosecutor, Jack Smith, who brought the case, than a blow to the allegations against Mr. Atout. 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 hit on took place in August or September 2021 during a meeting at Mr. Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. During the meeting, prosecutors said Mr. Trump showed a classified map related to an ongoing military operation to a representative of his political action committee, widely believed to be Susie Wiles, who is now one of the main advisors to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

As he showed the map, prosecutors say, Mr. Trump told Ms. Wiles that the military campaign was not going well. The indictment emphasized that she had no security clearance at the time and “no need to know” classified information about the campaign.

The episode on the map, while indicative of Mr. Trump’s lax handling of classified materials, was not at the heart of the formal allegations in this case. These focus on the White House’s removal of nearly three dozen documents containing sensitive national security secrets and its repeated efforts to prevent the government from recovering them from Mar-a-Lago, its private club and its residence in Florida.

Although Judge Cannon struck the card incident from the indictment, she did not touch on a similar allegation that allegedly occurred months earlier at Mr. Trump’s Bedminster property. In that episode, prosecutors say the former president showed a classified battle plan to a group of people who came to interview him for a brief written by his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

“As president, I could have declassified it,” Mr. Trump said of the battle plan, according to a recording made that day. “Now I can’t, you know. But it remains a secret. »

It is likely that Judge Cannon allowed this allegation to be part of the indictment because prosecutors ultimately charged Mr. Trump illegally kept the classified plan.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers, however, disputed the map’s inclusion as part of a broader attack on the indictment, saying it was superfluous and irrelevant. They argued that it should never have been in the charges because Mr. Trump was not formally accused of improperly transmitting classified documents to others, but only of illegally retaining them afterward. having left the White House.

In his ruling, Judge Cannon rejected the attorneys’ request to dismiss the charges altogether. But she noted that prosecutors took on additional responsibility by choosing to charge Mr. Trump in this case with what is known as a “speaking indictment” — an indictment that describes events in a evocative language rather than simply listing egregious violations of the law.

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

Judge Cannon added that it was “not appropriate” to include the card story in the indictment given that one of Mr. Smith’s top aides had admitted during from a hearing last month that it was not directly related to the charges Mr. Trump faces.

During the hearing, in federal court in Fort Pierce, Fla., Deputy Jay I. Bratt told Judge Cannon that prosecutors included the incident not as accused behavior, but rather as an indication of the former president’s propensity to manage recklessly. classified material.

Mr. Bratt said the evidence was admissible under what is known as Rule 404(b) of federal criminal procedure, which allows prosecutors to tell the jury about “bad acts” committed by a defendant who does not are not directly part of the charges in a case.

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

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

When Mr. Bratt said he had included similar evidence in other indictments, Judge Cannon retorted: “Is that correct?

Judge Cannon left open the possibility that prosecutors could eventually present the card story to the jury at trial. But they will have to ask him for permission first, and Mr. Trump’s lawyers may object to that request.

Her decision to remove the episode was the first time she had reduced the accusations against Mr. Atout. Through his lawyers, the former president has launched a series of attacks on the indictment, and Judge Cannon has so far ruled on three of them, including this one, the rejecting all.

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