In a decision that was anticipated by many, Judge Aileen Cannon tempered the Department of Justice’s recent win in the DC appellate court. On Tuesday, she partially granted Trump’s request to reveal specific discovery documents, contrary to Jack Smith’s preference for their confidentiality.
Simultaneously, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected Trump’s bid to dismiss his federal election interference case, claiming that presidential immunity does not apply.
In Florida, Judge Cannon made the pivotal decision to disclose certain discovery materials that Smith wanted to keep under wraps, underscoring the “strong presumption of public access in criminal proceedings.”
“Following an independent review of the Motion and the full record, the Court determines, with limited exceptions as detailed below, that the Special Counsel has not set forth a sufficient factual or legal basis warranting deviation from the strong presumption in favor of public access to the records at issue,” wrote Cannon.
Cannon, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, was appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate. She took her judicial oath in 2020.
Smith aimed to protect information that might disclose the identity or personal identifying details of potential witnesses, or that could precipitate “witness safety and intimidation” worries.
“Although substantiated witness safety and intimidation concerns can form a valid basis for overriding the strong presumption in favor of public access, the Special Counsel’s sparse and undifferentiated Response fails to provide the Court with the necessary factual basis to justify sealing,” she documented.
“Notwithstanding the conventional filing procedure outlined in Local Rule 5.4(c), there shall be no filing under seal of any unclassified material in this case unless the party seeking to make a filing under full or partial seal first has sought and obtained permission from the Court through a motion for leave to file under seal,” the ruling maintained.
“The motion for leave shall be filed publicly except in clear and supported cases of risk to personal safety or national security.”
Cannon came into the national spotlight for her involvement in the high-profile case concerning former President Trump. Specifically, she was assigned to preside over legal matters related to the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, during the summer of 2022. The search was part of an investigation into the handling of classified documents.
The search warrant, approved by another judge, indicated that the FBI was investigating potential violations of laws related to the handling of classified information and the Presidential Records Act.
The controversy and attention around Judge Cannon primarily stemmed from her rulings in the case. One significant decision she made was to grant Trump’s request for a special master to review the documents seized during the FBI search. This decision temporarily barred federal investigators from further examining the documents for their investigation.
Judge Cannon’s ruling was notable because it was seen as a victory for Trump’s legal team, who argued that the search was overly broad and raised concerns about the potential for privileged materials being improperly reviewed. The Department of Justice challenged Judge Cannon’s decision, arguing that the appointment of a special master was unnecessary and could impede the investigation.