Florida-based U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon handed former President Donald Trump a victory in his classified documents case by narrowing the scope of evidence that prosecutors can use against him on Monday.

In a significant setback for Special Counsel Jack Smith, a Trump-appointed judge ruled that Department of Justice officials cannot reference a confidential meeting between President Trump and a source where he allegedly boasted about obtaining a highly sensitive military map from his time in the White House. The New York Times described the decision as “more of a swipe” at Smith, who must now remove the admission from the original 53-page indictment.

According to prosecutors, Trump in August of September of 2021 sat for a meeting at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course where he showed a representative of his political action committee a map featuring military operations that were ongoing. The Times added the presentation was “widely believed” to be to Susan Wiles, a top advisor to Trump’s 2024 campaign. The former president then allegedly told Wiles the operation wasn’t going well, according to prosecutors, who wrote in the original indictment that his aide did not have “any need-to-know” security clearance to access the document.

Restricting Special Counsel Smith’s use of certain evidence limits his ability to argue that President Trump intentionally withheld about three dozen classified documents from his White House tenure. Central to this argument is the claim that Trump repeatedly refused to return the documents, despite requests from the U.S. National Archives (NARA).

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However, Cannon has unsealed evidence indicating that Smith’s office may have collaborated with NARA officials to build a criminal case without informing Trump’s legal team. President Trump has consistently asserted his innocence, claiming he declassified all documents in his possession under the Presidential Records Act.

Trump’s lawyers have called Smith’s charges extraneous and irrelevant. They argue that the inclusion of the Wiles story in characterizing the federal case as politically motivated is an example of this. They claim that this requires Trump to be charged with improperly transmitting classified material to other people, which he has not done, as reported by the Times.

Cannon stated in her ruling that Smith’s office has taken on additional responsibility by delivering a “speaking indictment,” which uses provocative language to present the case rather than listing dry criminal offenses. Presentation of the map story, she wrote, was “legally unnecessary” and that risks “can flow from a prosecutor’s decision to include in a charging document an extensive narrative account of his or her view of the facts.”

Cannon stated that it was “not appropriate” for Special Counsel Smith to continue referencing a specific narrative involving a map, especially after his deputy, Jay I. Bratt, acknowledged that it was unrelated to the charges against Trump. Bratt argued that the story was used to illustrate Trump’s tendency for reckless behavior, referencing a federal law that permits informing juries of a defendant’s unrelated “bad acts.”

While Cannon ruled that the story about Trump’s interaction with Wiles can be presented at trial, she specified that prosecutors must first seek her permission. The trial, which will include this narrative, is unlikely to occur before Election Day.


Disclaimer: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.