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The judge in the case against former President Donald Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents abruptly ended a routine hearing by reprimanding the federal prosecution team.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon “postponed a hearing on whether one of Trump’s co-defendants understood that his lawyer might have conflicts of interest.”
Judge Aileen Cannon of the United States District Court reprimanded Justice Department attorney David Harbach for “wasting the court’s time” with an irrelevant legal argument.
Harbach argued that Trump’s co-defendants Walt Nauta and Carlos de Oliveira should not be allowed to hire attorneys Stanley Woodward and John Irving because several of the attorneys’ current and former clients might be called to testify against them.
In the wake of Trump’s 2020 loss to Vice President Joe Biden, Trump relocated Nauta to his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago. Oliveira was the property manager at Trump’s Florida estate during the government’s raid that summer of 2022.
Instead of giving Nauta and Oliveira a chance to “digest and contemplate the risks” of their attorneys’ potential conflicts of interest, the hearing turned into an angry exchange.
Nauta faces six charges, including obstruction of justice conspiracy, and lying to police. Prosecutors say the Trump aide was instrumental in covering up Trump’s possession of classified documents. Oliveira is accused of assisting Trump in hiding boxes of classified documents at the Palm Beach estate from investigators.
The Palm Beach Post wrote, “Attorneys at the defense table traded glances as the judge became shorter and shorter with Harbach. He insisted that his position was ‘unremarkable’ and supported by other court decisions, though Cannon took a dim view of the three he offered her.”
When asked when the lawyers would meet again to discuss the matter, Cannon simply said, “Stay tuned.”
The New York Times reported: “At issue was a request by Mr. Smith’s team that Judge Cannon hold a hearing to make sure that Mr. Trump’s co-defendants — both of whom are employed by him — understood that their lawyers, who are being paid by a political action committee affiliated with the former president and who have represented witnesses in the case, had possible conflicts. In the case of one co-defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, the property manager at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence, the hearing proceeded largely without incident. Mr. De Oliveira’s lawyer, John Irving, had represented three witnesses in the case.”
Harbach argued before the court that Irving is under obligations of confidentiality and loyalty to former clients, and those may be challenged if he was to cross-examine them in his defense of De Oliveira “or question their credibility in summations to the jury,” the Time reported.
During the hearing, it became clear that the prosecution had not included those points in their pre-trial filings. Irving informed the court that he would no longer be representing them.
After explaining that English is not his first language, Cannon questioned De Oliveira several times before he confirmed that he wanted to hire Irving as his attorney, as reported by the outlet.
Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, added more confusion to the hearing when he took up the case of Walt Nauta, a personal aide to the former president.
Smith has accused Nauto and De Oliveira of obstructing the federal investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents he took with him when he left office.
“Mr. Harbach argued that Mr. Nauta’s lawyer, Stanley Woodward, had potential conflicts because of his past representation of another witness in the case. The witness has been identified in court papers only as Trump Employee. Still, people briefed on the matter have identified him as an internet technology aide at Mar-a-Lago named Yuscil Taveras,” The Times reported.
Woodward protested, telling Cannon that it wasn’t clear what the prosecutors were asking her to do or what they were arguing for, adding that under the current circumstances, it wouldn’t be fair to Nauta whether he waived his rights to a lawyer who did not have any conflicts.
“It seems intrinsically unfair to ask Mr. Nauta in this hypothetical world we’ve created” whether he was comfortable going forward with Woodward as his lawyer, Woodward told Cannon.
At that point, Cannon rebuked government prosecutor Harbach for being too vague in his request. She then ruled it wasn’t possible to fairly hold a hearing under the current circumstances, leading her to postpone later.