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Special counsel details threats against witnesses in Mar-a-Lago case in effort to protect their identities

Feb 9, 2024, 5:30 PM

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Mandato...

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Mandatory Credit: Steve Helber/AP/File

(CNN) — In a fight over keeping the identity of witnesses protected in the criminal document mishandling case against Donald Trump, special counsel Jack Smith this week detailed myriad threats against prosecutors, judges and other witnesses.

One threat against a witness has prompted a federal investigation, the special counsel’s office wrote in court filings.

“Witnesses, agents, and judicial officers in this very case have been harassed and intimidated,” they wrote, “and the further outing of additional witnesses will pose a similarly intolerable risk of turning their lives upside down.”

The focus on fears of witness intimidation and harassment highlight an ongoing struggle in cases against Trump, which have prompted discussion in court about curtailing the former president’s ability to discuss the cases in public to protect the proceedings.

The classified documents case, especially, has been surrounded by secrecy.

Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the federal criminal case in Florida, is considering the Justice Department’s concerns about witnesses as well as requests for transparency in the case.

So far, in the Florida documents case alone, Cannon, FBI agents, the judge who approved the search warrant of Mar-a-Lago, the special counsel, Justice Department prosecutors and witnesses in the case have all been threatened or intimidated on some level, prosecutors wrote. Possible witnesses against Trump are “routinely” being threatened in a way that could intimidate them from participating in the case, they added.

Earlier this week, the prosecutors revealed that “a prospective government witness” was threatened over social media, a situation that is now being investigated by a US attorney’s office. The prosecutors don’t want to disclose more about that investigation in court out of fear investigators’ work could be dirupted, they wrote.

Many possible witnesses in the Mar-a-Lago investigation are already known publicly given how many political aides and Trump company employees testified in the grand jury proceeding that led to Trump’s indictment. At least some of those are expected to be called again to testify against the former president.

“These risks are far from speculative in this case,” one filing said, adding that “a court’s duty is to prevent harms to the witnesses or the judicial process.”

“Those significant interests in maintaining confidentiality greatly outweigh the disclosure interests of the defendants and the public.”

Some of the witnesses are unnamed “career civil servants and former close advisers to defendant Trump.”

Prosecutors want to keep names secret of government personnel from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) who discussed the documents Trump kept from them after his presidency, of a Department of Energy lawyer who wrote a memo about Trump’s security clearance terminating when he left the presidency, and of more than 20 FBI agents who were present at the August 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago.

“The Court should not tolerate this barely veiled attempt to slide into the public record, by first and last name, the participation” of the FBI personnel, the prosecutors said.

“(T)he defendants have publicly alleged, with no basis, that NARA was part of a government-wide scheme targeting Trump. There is no reason to publish the names of – and thereby unnecessarily expose to intimidation and harassment – numerous NARA officials who have only done their jobs.”

Other witnesses whose names prosecutors want to keep under wraps include individuals who had relationships with Trump or his co-defendants, aides Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, and a person who “provided sensitive information to the FBI about activity at Mar-a-Lago” leading up to investigators seizing hundreds of records in a search of the property in August 2022.

One witness, prosecutors say, declined to have his interview with investigators recorded, “citing the associated risks to him in ‘Trump world’ of doing so,” the filing said.

Another witness shared confidential information about the layout of the private residence at Mar-a-Lago, including where Trump’s son’s bedroom was located.

Trump’s lawyers have sought to make public the witness names and related information in the case, since they have included them in court filings. But the names are locked down under a previously imposed court order, and the Trump side needs the judge’s permission to disclose them.

Trump’s side said in a court filing that there’s “no compelling interest” in keeping the information sealed and no legal reason to redact the names.

Smith’s team has also accused Trump, in attempting to compel more discovery and asking for more time to file certain pretrial motions, of continually trying to delay the trial, which is currently set for May.

“Their objective is plain—to delay trial as long as possible,” prosecutors wrote in a filing Thursday in the case. “And the tactics they deploy are relentless and misleading—they will stop at nothing to stall the adjudication of the charges against them by a fair and impartial jury of citizens.”

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Special counsel details threats against witnesses in Mar-a-Lago case in effort to protect their identities