Judge Cannon ‘Playing With Fire’ in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trial: Legal Analyst

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is “playing with fire” with her current handling of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, legal analyst Andrew Weissmann said on Saturday.

Originally appointed to the court by Trump himself in 2020, Cannon was the judge selected to preside over the Department of Justice (DOJ) and special counsel Jack Smith’s federal criminal case against him, in which he is accused of willfully retaining and mishandling classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida after leaving the White House and being uncooperative when asked to return them. Trump, for his part, has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, claiming at various points that he had every right to retain the documents in question.

Throughout the process, Cannon has been accused by legal experts and observers of making questionable decisions and rulings that favored Trump. This has included granting delays in the planned trial date and, more recently, granting the request of Trump’s legal team for more classified information to be unredacted in the files provided to them for discovery. In response to the latter, Smith decried Cannon’s decision as a “clear error” that could expose potential witnesses in the case to threats and harassment.

Former President Donald Trump is seen departing a Miami courthouse on June 12, 2023. The judge handling Trump’s federal documents case, Aileen Cannon, is “playing with fire,” according to Andrew Weissmann.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Appearing on a panel of experts for MSNBC host Katie Phang on Saturday, Weissmann, the former general counsel for the FBI who also served as lead prosecutor in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign, warned that Cannon was “playing with fire” in her handling of the case so far, noting her history of butting heads with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, with her latest decision likely to spark more indignation from that court.

“I do think that is the kind of thing that can get an appellate panel really angry about the way in which this is handled, and that was very much what we saw and was evident in the 11th Circuit’s reversal of her twice,” he said. “Was a real concern about her disregard of classified information of the role of the intelligence community interfering with normal criminal investigations and explicitly saying that Donald Trump will be treated differently and more favorably than other defendants. And she was rebuked twice, saying that is not the standard, he is to be treated no better and no worse than anyone else.”

He continued: “So she could really be playing with fire here in this ruling, but it remains to be seen, the underlying facts in what Jack Smith does. I do think if he takes it up…fasten your seatbelts as to what could happen.”

Smith, meanwhile, was given until Saturday to provide the unredacted documents to Trump’s team or to choose another path forward.

Newsweek has reached out to other legal experts via email for comment.