Judge says Trump team cannot release evidence in documents case

Judge in the federal case against Trump says lawyers cannot release evidence to media or on social platforms.

Former US President Donald Trump greets supporters in a Miami cafe after appearing in federal court on allegations he illegally hoarded classified documents and thwarted the Justice Department's efforts to get the records back [Alex Brandon/The Associated Press]

A US federal judge has ruled that former President Donald Trump’s legal team cannot publicly release evidence related to his federal trial on charges connected to hoarding and hiding classified documents.

The order released on Monday, six days after Trump first appeared in court in the case, said evidence – or information derived from it – “shall not be disclosed to the public or the news media, or disseminated on any news or social media platform, without prior notice to and consent of the United States or approval of the Court.”

The order from Judge Bruce Reinhart further said that Trump can only review the materials “under the direct supervision of Defense Counsel or a member of Defense Counsel’s staff” and that the former president “shall not retain copies”.

Trump last week pleaded not guilty to 37 criminal counts related to allegations he hoarded sensitive documents he took from the White House. The charges also relate to Trump’s alleged effort to obstruct the investigation, including hiding documents from federal agents.

Prosecutors allege Trump kept boxes of documents that “included information regarding defence and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programmes; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack”.

“The unauthorised disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods,” the indictment said.

Trump has maintained he cooperated with investigators and did nothing wrong in his handling of the documents. In an interview aired on Monday with Fox News’s Bret Baier, Trump doubled-down on those claims.

When Baier asked why the former president didn’t simply hand over the classified documents when asked to, Trump said it was a question of removing his personal effects.

“Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things,” Trump told Baier. “I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen.”

Prosecutors last week had asked the court to impose the conditions granted on Monday, saying evidence in the case potentially contained “information pertaining to ongoing investigations, the disclosure of which could compromise those investigations and identify uncharged individuals”.

Polls show Trump, who has declared his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election, maintains a hefty lead in the crowded Republican field.

Under US law, Trump’s indictment – or a possible conviction – does not preclude him from being elected.

The indictment last week represents the first time a current or former US president has faced federal charges.

Trump was indicted in April on separate charges related to falsifying business records connected to hush money payments to a porn star – the first time a current or former US president had been indicted in history.

Trump also faces an investigation into alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results in the state of Georgia.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to lead the classified documents probe, is also investigating Trump’s role in spreading election misinformation in the wake of the 2020 vote and the former president’s actions surrounding the deadly storming of the US Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies