Former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers spent about five hours inside a secure space in Federal District Court in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Monday, for a hearing to explain their defense strategy to the judge overseeing the case in which Mr. Trump is charged with illegally retaining classified documents after he left office.
The purpose of the closed hearing was to give Mr. Trump’s team a chance to convince Judge Aileen M. Cannon that they should have access to highly classified materials that federal prosecutors have cited as potential evidence. The prosecutorial team led by Jack Smith, the special counsel in charge of the federal investigations into Mr. Trump, has argued that the materials in question have no relevance or utility to the former president’s defense.
It was the first time Mr. Trump and Judge Cannon had met in the courthouse. Mr. Trump appointed Judge Cannon to the bench in 2020.
While the proceedings inside the courthouse were sealed off from the public, o dozens of Mr. Trump’s supporters waited outside behind barricades on a cordoned-off street to see his motorcade come and go. Music blared and supporters held signs that said “Florida is Trump country” and waved flags that said “The Donfather 2024.” The St. Lucie County Republican Party had given local members a heads-up on Sunday that Mr. Trump would be at the Fort Pierce courthouse the following day.
Mr. Trump, who typically likes to use these court appearances as campaign stops, did not stop to talk to his supporters as his motorcade left.
Highly classified material that prosecutors do not want to share with a defendant in national security cases typically has to do with sources and methods of intelligence collection, said David Aaron, a former federal national security prosecutor. These are details that prosecutors say have little bearing on the evidence used against the defendant at trial, he said.
Mr. Trump and his team, though, are seeking access to the material.
The federal courts have a system in place, known as the Classified Information Procedures Act, for reviewing classified material that is part of a case without publicly disclosing the contents of the material.
Mr. Smith’s team made its case to Judge Cannon on Jan. 31 as to why the material did not need to be shared with the defense.
“Now the court has the opportunity to meet with the defense without the prosecution, so the court can fully understand what kind of information would be relevant and helpful,” Mr. Aaron said. “Those meetings can be iterative, and the judge can go back and forth.”
The prosecution met with Judge Cannon again on Monday afternoon after she met with Mr. Trump and his team. Judge Cannon plans to meet with lawyers for Mr. Trump’s co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, on Tuesday morning. And then she will meet with lawyers from the special counsel’s team.
Aside from the classified material that is in dispute, the special counsel has handed over to Mr. Trump’s team more than 1.28 million pages of unclassified documents and 11,000 pages of classified documents. Those included the classified documents that were found at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s club and residence in Palm Beach, Fla., and documents and audio recordings related to classified witness interviews.
The trial over the classified documents was initially scheduled for May, but it is not likely to begin until after the November election. The prosecution has accused Mr. Trump and his team of trying to delay the trial as much as possible.
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