The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, Beryl Howell, issued an order Saturday turning down efforts by news outlets, including POLITICO, to obtain the legal pleadings related to the Mar-a-Lago fight, as well as transcripts of related closed-door court sessions. | Win McNamee/Getty Images
A federal judge has rejected a bid by media organizations to gain access to records related to a dispute over compliance with a grand jury subpoena for classified documents stored at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate.
The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, Beryl Howell, issued an order Saturday turning down efforts by news outlets, including POLITICO, to obtain the legal pleadings related to the fight, as well as transcripts of related closed-door court sessions.
News organizations attempted in December to gain access to a proceeding Howell held with Trump’s lawyers reportedly relating to contempt proceedings connected to Trump’s compliance with the Mar-a-Lago documents probe, but the judge declined to admit a passel of journalists who had gathered in the hallway outside her courtroom to seek entry to the hearing.
In her latest six-page ruling, Howell said revealing any of the records publicly would invade grand jury secrecy.
“Responding to petitioners’ request would be infeasible without disclosing grand jury material because, if the government asked to hold the former president in contempt, as petitioners allege, that request would have been part of an effort to secure compliance with the grand jury Subpoena,” wrote Howell, taking care not to confirm any details of the battle. “The requested filings would invariably and consistently touch on ‘matters occurring before the grand jury.’”
Howell noted news reports about prosecutors’ efforts to seek contempt proceedings over allegedly inadequate efforts by Trump lawyers to locate documents with classification markings related to the ongoing probe headed by special counsel Jack Smith.
Last month, Howell denied a similar access request from POLITICO and The New York Times for information about privilege battles relating to prosecutors’ efforts to call former White House aides before a grand jury investigating attempts to interfere with the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
But last month, Howell also opted to unseal several significant filings in a grand jury matter connected to Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), a key ally in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Howell said the grand jury materials in that case could be released in part because the court of appeals held public arguments about the matter that revealed details that had previously been public.
Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, is set to end her seven-year term as chief judge next week. Grand jury-related matters not resolved by then are expected to be transferred to her successor, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, also an Obama appointee.