A federal judge on Monday rejected a request from special counsel Jack Smith to keep secret a list of 84 potential witnesses in the prosecution of former President Donald Trump over his handling of classified documents.
Federal prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, to keep under seal a list of witnesses who Trump is barred from communicating with directly about the case.
In her order, Cannon said prosecutors failed to explain why it was necessary to keep the names under wraps, or why redacting or partially sealing the document would be inadequate.
NBC News has reached out to the special counsel's office and Justice Department for comment. Trump attorney Todd Blanche declined to comment on the order.
Lawyers for Trump took "no position" on Smith's motion but reserved the right to object to aspects of it, such as implementation, according to Cannon's order.
At Trump's arraignment this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman ordered Trump to sign a bond prohibiting him from speaking to certain witnesses, except through his attorneys. Goodman also asked Smith's team to provide a list of the witnesses Trump would be barred from communicating with directly.
In a filing Friday, the government said it had provided Trump's attorneys with the list, and asked that the former president and Walt Nauta, a Trump aide and alleged co-conspirator in the case, sign an acknowledgement that they had received the list.
"In order to implement Judge Goodman’s special condition of release, the government hereby moves to file the list of witnesses subject to the prohibition under seal with the Court," Jay Bratt on Smith's legal team wrote in Friday's filing.
Cannon’s order was welcomed by a coalition of news organizations, including NBC News, The Associated Press, The New York Times, CBS News, and others, that had argued the case presents issues of public and historical interest that “cannot be overstated,” and that the witness list reflected “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.”
“We are pleased that the Court recognized the First Amendment requires the government to meet a very high bar to seal any portion of these historic proceedings,” Chuck Tobin, an attorney for the press coalition, said in a statement Monday.
A federal grand jury indicted Trump on 37-counts related to keeping classified documents after he left office, and hiding them from authorities, according to a filing unsealed this month. The charges come after more than 100 classified documents were uncovered at the former president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last year. Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges in a Miami court house.
In a separate order Monday, Cannon set a July 14 hearing date to discuss how classified materials will be handled in the case, as requested by the government.
She also granted the government’s request for the appointment of a classified information security officer to assist each side with the handling of any motions or orders related to the Classified Information Procedures Act.