News Organizations Call For Transparency in Trump Documents Case Witness List

On Monday, a collection of news organizations petitioned a federal court to release the special counsel’s list of 84 witnesses barred from speaking with former President Donald Trump about the facts of his criminal classified papers case.

“Full transparency — at every step of this historic case — is essential,” the press coalition’s attorneys stated in a filing in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“Without it, public confidence in the integrity of these proceedings specifically and the judicial system at large will suffer, perhaps irreversibly,” the coalition, which includes NBCUniversal Media, CNN, and The New York Times, wrote in a court filing.

The plea came three days after special counsel Jack Smith, who conducted the investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of secret documents, asked the court to seal the witness list. On the same day, Smith urged the court to move Trump’s trial date to mid-December, citing the need for extra time for defense lawyers to secure security clearances and analyze evidence. The trial had been slated to begin in mid-August by Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointment.

News Organizations Call For Transparency in Trump Documents Case Witness List

Trump, the first former president to face federal charges, pleaded not guilty this month to 37 counts of obstruction of justice and deliberate retention of national security information. At the same arraignment session, his aide and co-defendant, Walt Nauta, pleaded not guilty to six charges.

A magistrate judge ordered Trump and Nauta to only talk with specific witnesses about the facts of the case through their lawyers as a condition of their release.

Smith stated in a court filing on Friday that the Department of Justice has shared a list of those witnesses with Trump and Nauta’s attorneys. According to a footnote in that submission, the list has 84 names.

The lawyers for the defendants did not comment on the government’s decision to file the witness list under secret, but “the defense reserves the right to object to the special condition and the manner in which it was implemented,” according to the court filing.

The group of approximately three dozen journalistic outlets said in its quest to unseal the list that the DOJ cites “no grounds to warrant the extraordinary remedy of a secret court filing.”

In its request to examine the witness list, the coalition cited the First Amendment, common law, and the norms of an open judicial system. “The American public’s interest in this matter, and the need to monitor its progress at every step of the way, cannot be overstated,” they contended.

“The filing of a list of potential witnesses, in this case, is a highly significant initial step in this extraordinary prosecution,” they said. “It will be the first time that the Court has directed the Government to inform Trump of the identities of witnesses who prosecutors believe will incriminate him.”

According to the news sources, Trump’s attorney has stated that the list includes the ex-president’s longtime associates and staffers.

The court-ordered witness list “reflects a turning point from the secrecy of the Grand Jury investigation to the public administration of justice involving the highest level of power in American government,” according to the group.

It is not uncommon for news organizations to interfere in legal proceedings to advocate for greater transparency and disclosure. In another high-profile pending criminal case, a press alliance successfully lobbied for the public release of the names of those who provided a $50,000 bond for troubled Rep. George Santos, R-NY. Santos’ father and aunt were identified Thursday as the bail backers whose names had been withheld.

Despite being charged with criminal offenses in two different cases while campaigning, Trump is currently the Republican presidential nominee for 2024.

According to an NBC News poll released on Sunday, Trump’s lead among Republican primary voters has risen since his recent indictment. He has promised to continue running even if convicted.

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