June 23, 2024

A Florida judge handed prosecutors in Donald Trump’s classified documents lawsuit a significant victory on Monday by ruling the former president cannot publicly disclose any of the evidence against him.

Trump, who was arranged in Miami last week on a 37-count indictment over his improper storage and handling of classified materials at his Mar-a-Lago resort, can also only view, but not retain, any of the evidence under the direct supervision of his lawyers, the order from the magistrate judge, Bruce Reinhart, stated.

The secrecy ruling in particular will thwart Trump, who has been a vocal critic of justice department prosecutors and special counsel Jack Smith on his Truth Social website, from attempting to publicize or spin any of the evidence to his advantage as he continues to insist on the case against him is a politically motivated “witch-hunt”.

“Discovery materials, along with any information derived therefrom, shall not be disclosed to the public or the news media, or disseminated on any news or social media platforms, without prior notice to and consent from the United States or the approval of the court,” Reinhart’s order, filed on Monday in the southern judicial district of Florida, stated.

Trump, Reinhart said, “shall not retain copies” and may only review case materials “under the direct supervision of the defense counsel or a member of the defense counsel’s staff”.

The non-dissemination clause applies equally to Trump, the favorite to win the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nomination, and his team of lawyers.

The defense is currently being led by the New York attorney Todd Blanche, a former federal prosecutor, following Trump’s apparent inability to recruit a specialist national security lawyer with a necessary security clearance to help him navigate Espionage Act charges.

Prosecutors filed a motion last week asking for conditions on how the defense stores and uses the papers.

Despite Monday’s victory, the justice department could have an uphill battle to convict Trump, who also faces a criminal fraud trial in New York for an alleged hush money payment to an adult film star, and potential legal peril in Georgia and Washington DC for attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat to Joe Biden.

The Florida case is in the hands of Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee to the federal bench, who has already issued rulings favorable to him last year, which were overturned by an appeals court. Analysts have questioned her impartiality and point out she wields substantial power to dismiss or delay the case.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Trump could win a further delay, past the 2024 presidential election, because the case could be tried under the rules of the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Such trials “legally require more precautions and tend to take more time to get to trial than a typical criminal case”, the newspaper said.

Trump pleaded not guilty last week to all charges in the classified documents case at his Miami arrangement, at which only selected reporters and nine members of the public were permitted to attend.

Republicans remain split over Trump’s two indictments. Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor challenging him for the presidential nomination, on Sunday called the behavior leading to the charges “indefensible” and “deeply disturbing”.

“We would not be here if Donald Trump had simply returned the documents that the government had asked him to return dozens of times,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation.

House Republicans, however, have been quick to defend the former president, questioning the justice department’s motives for bringing in the prosecution, and why Biden has not been charged for also retaining classified documents.

In a bizarre defense of Trump last week, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, insisted that some of the classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago in a shower room were completely secure because “a bathroom door locks”.