Judge In Trump's Classified Files Case Agrees to Redact Witness Names, Granting Prosecution Request

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal judge presiding over the classified documents case against former President Donald Trump granted a request by prosecutors on Tuesday aimed at protecting the identities of potential government witnesses.

But U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon refused to categorically block witness statements from being disclosed, saying there was no basis for such a "sweeping" and "blanket" restriction on their inclusion in pretrial motions.

The 24-page order centers on a dispute between special counsel Jack Smith's team and lawyers for Trump over how much information about witnesses and their statements could be made public ahead of trial. The disagreement, which had been pending for weeks, was one of many that had piled up before Cannon and had slowed the pace of the case against Trump -- one of four prosecutions he is confronting.

The case remains without a firm trial date, though both sides have said they could be ready this summer. Cannon, who earlier faced blistering criticism over her decision to grant Trump's request for an independent arbiter to review documents obtained during an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, made clear her continued skepticism of the government's theory of prosecution, saying Tuesday that the case raised "still-developing and somewhat muddled questions."

In reconsidering an earlier order and siding with prosecutors on the protection of witness identities, Cannon likely averted a dramatic exacerbation of tensions with Smith's team, which last week called a separate order from the judge "fundamentally flawed."

The issue surfaced in January when defense lawyers filed in partially redacted form a motion that sought to require prosecutors to turn over a trove of documents that they said would bolster their claim that the Biden administration had sought to "weaponize" the government in charging Trump.

Defense lawyers asked permission to file the motion, which included as attachments information that they had obtained from prosecutors, in mostly unredacted form. But prosecutors objected to unsealing the motion to the extent that it would reveal the identity of any potential government witness.

Cannon then granted the defense request for the motion and its exhibits to be filed in unredacted form as long as the personal identifying information of witnesses remained sealed. Smith's team asked her to reconsider, saying that witnesses could be exposed to threats and harassments if publicly identified.

In agreeing Tuesday for the witness names to remain redacted, she wrote, "Although the record is clear that the Special Counsel could have, and should have, raised its current arguments previously, the Court elects, upon a full review of those newly raised arguments, to reconsider its prior Order."

Still, the order was not a complete win for prosecutors.

Cannon rejected a request by Smith's team to seal from pretrial motions the substance of all witness statements, with the exception of information that could be used to identify witnesses.

"As for legal authority, the cases cited in the Special Counsel's papers do not lend support to this sweeping request; nor do they appear to have been offered as such," Cannon wrote. "And based on the Court's independent research, granting this request would be unprecedented: the Court cannot locate any case -- high-profile or otherwise -- in which a court has authorized anything remotely similar to the sweeping relief sought here."