Judge signals support for special master to review some Trump records seized by FBI

A federal judge in Florida indicated on Saturday that she was inclined to appoint a special master to review some of the documents the FBI seized earlier this month from former President Donald Trump’s Florida home as part of a a criminal investigation related to national security.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, did not issue a blanket order for the special master, but instead said she had a “preliminary intent” to do so after hearing arguments that she had scheduled Thursday in her West Palm Beach courtroom.

The Justice Department had no comment.

Trump’s legal team had deposit the request Monday for a court-appointed third party to review documents the FBI took on Aug. 8 at its Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate. Representatives for Trump said the search was too broad and that FBI agents took away his passports and confidential attorney-client documents.

If Cannon grants Trump’s request, the special master would be tasked with reviewing the documents for questions of privilege — not the highly sensitive records at the heart of the government’s investigation. Trump’s legal brief also sought to protect documents covered by executive privilege that applies to presidents, but since he is no longer in the White House, that legal protection does not automatically apply to those documents.

On Friday, another federal judge, Bruce Reinhart, released a heavily redacted copy of the search warrant affidavit detailing how FBI agents in mid-May had found 184 unique documents bearing classification marks. The 36-page document said 25 documents were marked as “TOP SECRET”, 67 documents marked as “confidential” and 92 marked “secret” – all of which were contained in boxes at Mar-a-Lago. The affidavit said some of the documents bore markings that pointed to intelligence gathered by “clandestine human sources,” such as reports from CIA officers or information related to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Following the search at Mar-a-Lago, officials said, more sensitive documents were discovered.

In her order, Judge Cannon directed the Justice Department to file under seal “a more detailed property receipt specifying all seized property” and she also required “a detailed notice indicating the status of the review by the defendant of the seized property, including any screening review performed by the lien review team and any dissemination of documents beyond the lien review team.”

A “screening team” of FBI agents – a group of independent agents from the overall investigation responsible for separating documents covered by solicitor-client privilege and other material not relevant to the investigation – has meanwhile been at work since the agency took away the boxes of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago.

Additionally, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed it was working ‘to facilitate a classification review of relevant documents’ found at the beach club and assessing the ‘potential national security risk’ that could arise from the disclosure. of these documents, DNI Avril Haines told the chairs of the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees in a new letter obtained Saturday by NBC News.

As soon as the order has been posted on Twitter and lawyers and laypeople weighed in, University of Texas national security law expert Steve Vladeck said the role of a special master would be limited in scope.

“Everyone is going to read in that order more than they should. But the special master is not questioning the warrant or the search; he or she would just make sure that the seized materials the government is holding are materials that he has a right of possession,” Vladeck wrote on Twitter.

And Dilanian contributed.

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