Florida federal judge Aileen Cannon has granted Donald Trump’s request to appoint a third and independent person from the Justice Department, a “special master,” to examine materials seized at Mar-a-Lago by the FBI. The judge banned the use of the material for “investigative purposes” until it was analyzed by a “special master”. This was reported by the Twitter account of Chris Keitner, a justice journalist working for the MSNBC network. Trump nominated Judge Cannon.
This is a victory for the president. The Justice Department objected, arguing that an outside legal expert was unnecessary because department officials had already completed a review to identify documents covered by the presidential privilege that Trump wants to withdraw. This decision may slow down the investigation, but is unlikely to affect the outcome of the investigation or the final outcome of the investigation.
Trump has been under investigation for removing government documents from the White House, some of which were marked highly classified, and kept them at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach after he left the White House in January 2021. The Justice Department said it was investigating possible fraud after the FBI found evidence that Trump’s team may have intentionally withheld classified documents when they tried to retrieve them in June. During the same June 3 meeting, Trump representatives falsely certified that they had diligently searched and returned all classified material to the government — a claim that was dismissed after the FBI recovered 33 boxes containing more than 11,000 government documents and photographs. 100 documents are marked as classified.
Trump’s legal team waited until two weeks after the FBI’s Aug. 8 search to ask the court to appoint a “special judge.” For example, a “special master” was used to examine items seized in raids on the homes and offices of two former Trump lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen. But Trump’s request is unique. Not only did his team want the special judge to review the traditional client lawyer, but he told Cannon that the special judge was appropriate because some of the documents may be subject to executive privilege, a legal doctrine that protects certain White House communications.
The Justice Department has steadfastly opposed Trump’s request, saying he cannot claim executive privilege because the documents do not belong to him, but to the government. “He’s no longer the president,” counterintelligence attorney Jay Pratt told Cannon during the Sept. 1 hearing. “Since he is no longer president, he has no right to take those documents.” The Justice Department said there was no point in appointing a special judge because his filter team — a group of agents who were not part of the investigation — had completed its work. Agents have identified and designated a limited number of documents that are subject to professional secrecy. The rest of the documents have already been reviewed by the investigative team for criminal investigation. At the same time, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is already conducting a parallel review as part of the National Security Damage Assessment.
Several former Justice Department attorneys, both Democrats and Republicans, have criticized Trump’s request to appoint a special judge. Former Trump appointee Attorney General Bill Barr called the special judge a “waste of time” in an interview with FoxNews. Even a group of former federal prosecutors who served in Republican administrations called Trump’s request “unprecedented,” an unfair court filing and “manifestly frivolous.” However, at a September 1 hearing, Cannon signaled his willingness to grant the request. “Finally, what’s the harm in appointing a special director?” he asked.
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