As former president Donald Trump prepares for trial on charges that he repeatedly violated government rules for handling classified information, his legal team may get a tactical timing advantage from an unlikely source: government rules for handling such secrets.
Trump’s indictment on dozens of charges, including mishandling classified documents and trying to obstruct investigators’ efforts to recover that material, means his case will be tried under the rules of the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA — a law that could, in theory, delay any trial until after the 2024 presidential election.
Joshua L. Dratel, a criminal defense attorney who handles national security cases, said the discovery process in cases involving classified materials typically takes much longer than in other types of criminal cases.
During discovery, Trump’s legal team would review the evidence that the government collected during its investigation, including the classified materials. But those classified materials can only be accessed in secure areas called sensitive compartmented information facilities, or SCIFs. For defense lawyers, that typically means a secure facility inside the federal courthouse, where they are prohibited from taking the materials out of the room. If they want to discuss classified material with potential witnesses, that too must be done in a SCIF.
“The preparation of those materials takes an inordinate amount of time. And it may be that the only way you can review the discovery materials is in there,” Dratel said. “You can’t put it on a laptop or read it on a train. There are a lot of limitations on access that extend the process of review.”
Defense lawyers in national security cases have long argued that this part of the CIPA law is unfair to defendants, because it gives prosecutors a detailed road map to the trial defense strategy well before the trial begins, and because so many of the legal debates are kept secret under seal, out of public view.Source: The Washington Post