Monday, December 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge sets rules for handling national secrets in Mar-a-Lago case

No wireless headphones, internet access or notes — Donald Trump's defense team will face unusual hurdles while handling classified information in the Mar-a-Lago case.

(CN) — Defense attorneys for Donald Trump will have to follow strict rules for handling the classified documents the former president is accused of hiding at his Florida resort, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The order from U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee, was filed following a two-hour hearing held Tuesday to discuss the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. The law, which regulates the use of classified information in criminal cases, was passed in 1980 based on fears that defense lawyers could use the disclosure of national secrets as a bargaining tool in plea negotiations.

The hearing, which was not open to the public, was attended by Walt Nauta, a Trump aide accused of helping his boss hide records at Mar-a-Lago, but not the former president himself, according to the minutes.

Wednesday’s order explains in detail the procedures Trump’s defense team will have to follow while handling the sensitive information. Cannon warned in her order that leaks “could cause serious damage, and in some cases exceptionally grave damage,” to the security of the United States, or aid its foreign adversaries.

Classified information must be stored at all times in a “sensitive compartmented information facility” that has been approved by the information security officer assigned to the case. The officer is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the facility and ensuring the defense team has access to classified materials on a “need-to-know” basis.

The defense’s notes, summaries and other memoranda that contain classified information must remain at all times in the facility, unless the officer determines otherwise, the order states. Sensitive audio recordings can only be reviewed on a non-networked computer or device.

“The defense must use headphones to review such recordings, and the headphones must be wired and not have any wireless capability,” the judge added in the order.

Defense attorneys cannot discuss national secrets outside the facility, the order states. Information can be shared with the former president unless the government seeks a court order prohibiting its disclosure.

Trump is charged with unlawfully taking boxes of classified records after leaving office in 2021 and storing them in unsecured areas at Mar-a-Lago. Carlos De Oliveira, a property manager at the resort, and Nauta are accused of helping their boss hide the records as the former president stonewalled federal authorities hunting for them.

The classified information detailed the defense and weapons capabilities of the United States and foreign countries, the nation’s nuclear programs, military vulnerabilities and possible responses to foreign attacks, according to the indictment.

The order does not address a dispute over Trump’s access to classified information "at or near" Mar-a-Lago. His attorneys argued in a motion filed last month that an area in the Palm Beach resort was previously approved as a secure facility for discussing and storing classified information.

Federal prosecutors countered that Trump was seeking “special treatment” but noted defense attorneys could petition the security officer to designate Mar-a-Lago as a secure facility under the proposed procedures.

Attorneys for Nauta also requested their client be permitted access to confidential records to assist with his defense. Cannon ruled Wednesday that the defendant could access information with government permission or by court order.

Follow @SteveGarrisonPC
Categories / Criminal, Government, National

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.