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.