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Trump lawyers meet with judge about the reveal of classified info in Mar-a-Lago case

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump, along with special counsel Jack Smith, are in Florida today for two days of closed-door hearings. The hearings are part of the criminal case in which Trump is charged with withholding and concealing classified and top-secret documents at his Palm Beach club and residence, Mar-a-Lago. NPR's Greg Allen is following the case and joins us from Miami. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Greg, what can you tell us about what happened at today's hearing?

ALLEN: Well, you know, they were closed, as you say. But we know that U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon met first with Trump's lawyers to discuss what classified and top secret information that they feel they need to use in court to defend their client. And then in the afternoon, prosecutors were the ones who went in and met with Judge Cannon to present their viewpoint. In cases like this one that involve national security, the Justice Department typically seeks to prevent or at least limit disclosure of classified information. Both those sessions were closed to the media and public, of course. An additional hearing could happen tomorrow. Donald Trump was there for the closed session today, and he left the courthouse without making any comments. This, notably, was the first time he attended any of these proceedings in Fort Pierce.

SUMMERS: Greg, do you have a sense of why former president's lawyers want to use information from the classified documents in court?

ALLEN: It's hard to say because so many of the motions related to this - the classified material - are sealed. But former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade said there are a few possible reasons why Trump lawyers may want to include it.

BARBARA MCQUADE: One strategy might be to say, everybody already knows that. You know, perhaps it relates to a plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. Well, we already withdrew from Afghanistan. And so there was nothing about this document that would harm the national security of the United States if it were disclosed.

ALLEN: Defense lawyers also sometimes seek to convince the court that they need information that they know the government doesn't want to provide, and that can force prosecutors to drop counts or agree to plea deals on lesser charges. Legal experts say, typically, judges will thread the needle, providing enough material to ensure a fair trial, but redacting it, withholding names or information that might be damaging to national security. But in the meantime, all this slows down the proceedings, which is in Trump's favor, with legal observers now saying it looks unlikely this will all go to trial before the November election.

SUMMERS: And Trump's lawyers submitted a new filing over the weekend and compared his case to the investigation into President Biden's retention of classified documents. And a special counsel said last week that he's not recommending any charges in the Biden case. Does that help former President Trump's defense?

ALLEN: Well, his lawyers certainly think so. They've submitted briefs in which they referenced the Biden investigation. They called Trump's case a selective and vindictive prosecution brought for political reasons. It's not clear yet whether the judge will allow them to make that case to a jury at trial. Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein says it's a side argument that ultimately he thinks the judge will exclude from the trial. He thinks the comparison with the Biden case is not valid.

DAVID WEINSTEIN: One of the biggest differences is the cooperation that was provided by the current president and the lack of cooperation provided by the former president and the steps that he and others undertook to obstruct the investigation.

ALLEN: You know, if Trump had cooperated with the National Archives and not blocked efforts to retrieve the classified material for a year and a half, Weinstein says this prosecution wouldn't have been necessary.

SUMMERS: Trump appointed Judge Cannon to the bench and has been criticized for rulings that many believe are overly deferential to him. Have prosecutors suggested they might seek to have her removed from the case?

ALLEN: There have been calls for that but no sign of that yet from prosecutors. Last week, Judge Cannon surprised a lot of people when she gave Trump's lawyers permission to unseal non-classified but sensitive information that up to now hadn't been made public. She said Trump's lawyers could file briefs that would mention by name some of the people interviewed by prosecutors. The special counsel then asked Judge Cannon to reconsider her ruling, saying that revealing the names of potential witnesses would expose them to, quote, "significant and immediate risks of threats, intimidation and harassment." And, you know, that's already happened. The special counsel says threats have been made against a potential witness in the case, and there's an ongoing investigation. So there could be a possible appeal if - depending on what happens with that decision.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.