Judge Appoints a “Special Master” to Review Documents Taken From Mar-a-Lago

September 6, 2022
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The Court hereby authorizes the appointment of a special master to review the seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege.

United States District Judge Aileen Cannon in a ruling which could potentially slow the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s actions.

Backstory: On August 8, the FBI searched former Pres. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, seizing 27 boxes containing a mix of personal, classified and unclassified government documents. This search was authorized by the Justice Dept., which is investigating whether Pres. Trump potentially mishandled federal records.

  • The Justice Dept. is also investigating potential obstruction of justice; according to court filings, the government had previously requested all White House and presidential documents from Pres. Trump — whose lawyers said that everything had been returned earlier this year.

Why It Matters: Judge Cannon’s ruling requires a “special master” to be appointed to go through the documents seized from Pres. Trump’s residence in August to make sure none of the materials are under protection from attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, and orders the Justice Dept. to halt reviewing the documents until this process is complete, potentially slowing the criminal investigation into Pres. Trump.

  • What is a “special master”? A special master is a third-party individual who is appointed by a court to carry out some sort of [typically investigative] action on its behalf.” Bringing a special master into a case is “relatively rare,” as The Washington Post notes.
  • What’s next? Whether or not the Justice Dept. will appeal Judge Cannon’s ruling is TBD. Justice Dept. spokesman Anthony Coley explained: “The United States is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation.” The Justice Dept. has opposed bringing in a special master into the case, as they have already had a “filter team” review the documents for protections under attorney-client privilege.
  • Important To Note: Per Judge Cannon’s ruling, although the Justice Dept. must pause reviewing the seized materials, “U.S. intelligence officials could continue conducting their review into whether the records could pose any damage to national security if exposed” (Reuters).

Judge to appoint special master to review Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents (The Washington Post)

U.S. judge agrees to special master in Trump search case, delaying probe (Reuters)

by Jenna Lee,

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