Prosecutors Seek to Protect Witnesses in Trump Classified Documents Case
Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to protect the identities of several witnesses involved in the criminal case accusing former President Donald J. Trump of illegally retaining classified documents, saying that if their names were revealed before trial they could be exposed to “intolerable and needless risks.”
“There is a well-documented pattern in which judges, agents, prosecutors and witnesses involved in cases involving Trump have been subject to threats, harassment and intimidation,” the prosecutors wrote.
The request to protect the witnesses — made in court papers filed late Thursday night — came after Mr. Trump’s legal team asked Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who is overseeing the case, for permission to name some of the witnesses in court papers it recently filed related to arguments about discovery evidence.
Judge Cannon ultimately ruled in favor of Mr. Trump and said the witnesses could be identified. The government responded on Thursday night by accusing her of having committed a “clear error” and by asking her to rethink her decision and to keep the identities of more than two dozen witnesses from being revealed.
The filing reflected what seemed to be a mounting sense of frustration with Judge Cannon on the part of prosecutors working for the special counsel Jack Smith.
The papers were filed just days before the defense and the prosecution were scheduled to meet in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., to discuss, among other things, a highly unusual request by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to gain access to a secret government filing concerning classified discovery evidence in the case.
Prosecutors have vehemently opposed the request, saying it lies entirely outside the normal rules governing the handling of classified material established in a federal law known as the Classified Information Procedures Act. Experts in the law say that if Judge Cannon grants Mr. Trump’s request to see the secret filing, it would be an unprecedented expansion of the statute.
The filing on Thursday by Mr. Smith’s team was only the latest effort by prosecutors to ensure the well-being of people involved in the two federal cases brought against Mr. Trump. Many participants in the other case — in which Mr. Trump stands accused of plotting to overturn the 2020 election — have also been threatened or harassed by Mr. Trump or his supporters, including the trial judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, and Mr. Smith himself.
In a different set of court papers filed on Wednesday night, Mr. Smith’s prosecutors said that a separate criminal investigation had been opened to examine threats made on social media against one of the potential witnesses in the documents case. Prosecutors did not identify the witness in their Wednesday night filing nor did they provide any additional details about the inquiry in their follow-up papers on Thursday night.
Among the people prosecutors are seeking to protect are “career civil servants and former close advisers” to Mr. Trump, the prosecutors wrote on Thursday night. They told Judge Cannon that one of the witnesses was so concerned about threats he might face from “Trump world” that he refused to permit the government to record an interview he conducted with investigators.
Mr. Smith’s team has not yet asked for a gag order to be imposed on Mr. Trump in the classified documents case as prosecutors did in the election subversion case. Still, in their filing on Thursday night, the prosecutors said that there had been a “dangerous atmosphere” for witnesses and others involved in the classified documents case even from its earliest days.
The prosecutors noted, for example, that after a magistrate judge, Bruce E. Reinhart, unsealed documents related to the search in August 2022 of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida, F.B.I. agents involved in the event were “threatened and harassed.”
The prosecutors also pointed out that both Judge Reinhart and even Judge Cannon herself had suffered threats. They specifically cited the case of a Texas woman who called Judge Cannon’s chambers about one month after the search of Mar-a-Lago and left a voice mail message threatening to shoot her.
The woman, Tiffani Gish, pleaded guilty in November to making the threats and is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday in Federal District Court in Houston.
The government’s filing about the witnesses came shortly after the release of a report by another special counsel, Robert K. Hur, who determined that President Biden had willfully retained and disclosed classified materials when he was out of office, but that criminal charges were not warranted.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers are likely to use the report as fodder this month when they file what is known as a selective prosecution motion, accusing prosecutors of unfairly indicting Mr. Trump over much the same behavior.
Prosecutors have already lashed out at the former president’s legal team for asking Judge Cannon for a delay in the deadline to file some of its other pretrial motions in the case. On Thursday night, the prosecutors sent a different set of papers to Judge Cannon opposing the delay and accusing Mr. Trump’s lawyers of trying to slow-walk the case and postpone the current trial date of May 20.
“The tactics they deploy are relentless and misleading,” the prosecutors wrote. “They will stop at nothing to stall the adjudication of the charges against them by a fair and impartial jury of citizens.”
The prosecutors seemed especially outraged that Mr. Trump’s lawyers said that among the motions they planned to file was one that would claim the former president enjoyed immunity from the charges in the case. But only days ago, a federal appeals court in Washington rejected that same argument in an attempt to have the election subversion indictment tossed out.
Filing the immunity claims, however frivolous they may be, would most likely have the effect of freezing the classified documents case in place as the matter is resolved. That, in fact, is precisely what has happened in the election interference case, which has been on hold for nearly two months as Mr. Trump’s immunity arguments make their way toward the Supreme Court.