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

In a significant blow to special counsel Jack Smith, the Trump-appointed judge ruled that Department of Justice officials cannot cite a confidential meeting between President Trump and a source where he allegedly bragged about obtaining a highly sensitive military map from his time in the White House. The New York Times called the decision “more of a swipe” at Smith, who must now remove the admission from the original 53-page indictment.

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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 Smith's citation of the map further constricts his ability to present a coherent narrative that President Trump sought to withhold approximately three dozen classified documents from his time in the White House. Central to their argument is Trump's refusal to return the documents despite repeated requests by the U.S. National Archives (NARA), though Judge Cannon has removed redactions on evidence that show that Smith's office conspired with NARA officials to prepare a criminal case without alerting Trump's attorneys. President Trump has maintained his innocence and claimed he declassified all documents in his possession under the Presidential Records Act.

Lawyers for Trump have called Smith's charges extraneous and irrelevant, citing the inclusion of the Wiles story in characterizing the federal case as politically motivated. Such an example, they allege, requires Trump to be charged with improperly transmitting classified material to other people, the Times added, which he has not. Judge Cannon wrote in her decision that Smith's office has taken on extra responsibility by presenting a “speaking indictment” which evokes a case with provocative language rather than presenting 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.”

Furthermore, Cannon added, it was “not appropriate” for Smith to maintain the story about the map given that one of his deputies had previously admitted that it was unrelated to the charges against Trump. The deputy, Jay I. Bratt, said during the hearing that the story was retained in order to demonstrate President Trump's proclivity for reckless behavior and cited a federal law which allows juries to be informed of “bad acts” by a defendant not specifically related to the charges against them. Judge Cannon's ruling will allow the story about Trump's interaction with Wiles to be presented at trial, which will almost certainly not occur before Election Day, but said prosecutors must first seek her permission.

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