US judge accepts special master in Trump search case, delaying investigation

WASHINGTON, Sept 5 (Reuters) – A federal judge agreed on Monday to appoint a special master to review records seized by the FBI during its search of former President Donald Trump’s estate in Florida, a move that could delay the prosecution. Department of Justice criminal investigation.

In her decisionU.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach, Fla., granted Trump’s request for a special master, an independent third party who is sometimes tasked in sensitive cases to review documents that could be covered by the attorney-client privilege.

Cannon said the person will be responsible for reviewing documents that are not only covered by solicitor-client privilege, but also any records that may be covered by solicitor-client privilege.

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The decision to allow a special master to review documents that might be covered by executive privilege, a legal doctrine that can protect certain White House records from disclosure, is uncharted legal territory.

Cannon also ordered the Justice Department to stop reviewing the records as part of its criminal investigation, a move that will likely at least temporarily hamper its ability to continue the investigation.

However, Cannon said US intelligence officials may continue to examine whether the recordings could harm national security if exposed.

Trump is under investigation for removing government documents, some of which were marked as highly classified, from the White House after he left in January 2021, and storing them in his home on his Mar-a- Lake at Palm Beach.

The Justice Department said it was also investigating a possible obstruction, after the FBI uncovered evidence that Trump’s team deliberately concealed classified documents when agents tried to retrieve them in June.

If the special master decides that some of the material is covered by Trump’s executive privilege claims, it could hamper the government’s investigation.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020 just months before leaving office, dismissed the government’s argument that the records belong to the government and that Trump is no longer president and therefore cannot claim executive privilege. .

She has given Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department until Friday to jointly file a proposed slate of special master nominees. Whoever is chosen by the court will need to have the required security clearances and legal expertise.

It’s unclear whether the Justice Department will appeal Cannon’s decision, or on what basis it would.

“The United States is reviewing the notice and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said.

Representatives for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

However, in a post on his Truth Social platform following Cannon’s decision, Trump wrote, “Remember that it takes courage and ‘courage’ to fight a ‘Justice’ Department and the Totally corrupt FBI.”

A redacted FBI photograph of classified documents and covers recovered from a container stored at former US President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, which was included in a US Department of Justice filing and released August 30, 2022 US Department of Justice/Handout via REUTERS


Some legal experts on Monday called the judge’s order deeply flawed.

“It’s not something the courts do,” said Jonathan Shaub, a former Justice Department attorney.

He said it was odd that Cannon was blocking the Justice Department from reviewing the records at this stage of the investigation, even before an indictment was issued.

“It gets a lot of special treatment,” Shaub said.

Cannon, in his decision, justified his actions by saying that Trump faces the stigma of having his home searched, and any future indictments based on the seizure of those records would cause “damage to his reputation.”

Trump, without evidence, accused the Justice Department of launching a partisan witch hunt against him. His lawyers argued that appointing an independent third party to review the documents would be a significant check on the government.

The Department of Justice argued that it made no sense to appoint a special master because its screening team – a group of agents who are not part of the investigation – had finished their work.

Officers located and set aside about 520 pages that may be subject to solicitor-client privilege, prosecutors said during a September 1 hearing. The rest of the files have already been reviewed by the investigation team for the criminal investigation.

In her decision on Monday, Cannon said she had lingering concerns about the Justice Department’s conduct of its privilege review, saying she was aware of at least two instances in which members members of the investigative team were exposed to documents which were subsequently designated as potentially privileged. .

“These examples alone, even if completely unintentional, raise questions about the adequacy of the filter review process,” she wrote.

Many former Justice Department lawyers, Democrats and Republicans, have criticized Trump’s call for a special master.

“I don’t think a special master makes sense when it comes to executive privilege material,” former Trump-appointed attorney general Bill Barr told Reuters in an interview.

“If the documents are subject to executive privilege, they involve formal deliberations of executive actions and, by definition, such documents belong to the government.”

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who also served as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil division, called the judge’s decision “amateurish” and poorly reasoned.

“My recommendation to the Department of Justice is to appeal the temporary injunction immediately, but to cooperate and expedite the effective implementation of the judge’s order,” Bolton said in an interview.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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