A redacted FBI photograph of documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container stored in former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Florida estate
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal judge on Monday agreed to appoint a special master to review records seized by the FBI during its search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, a move that will likely delay the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.
In her ruling U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, granted Trump’s request for a special master, an independent third party who is sometimes assigned in sensitive cases to review materials that could be covered by the attorney-client privilege.
Cannon said the person would be tasked with reviewing documents that are not just covered by attorney-client privilege, but any records possibly covered by executive privilege as well
The decision to allow a special population to review documents that may be subject to executive privilege, a legal doctrine that could protect some White House records from disclosure, is uncharted legal territory. discover.
Cannon also ordered the Justice Department to stop reviewing the records as part of a criminal investigation, a move that would likely at least temporarily hinder the ability to continue the investigation.
but Cannon stated U.S. intelligence officials could continue to examine whether the recordings could compromise national security if exposed.
Trump is under investigation for removing government documents, some of which were marked top secret, from the White House after he left in January 2021, and storing them in his home on Lake Mar-a-at Palm Beach.
The Justice Department says it is also investigating a possible obstruction after the FBI discovered evidence that Trump’s team intentionally concealed classified documents when agents tried to obtain them. June.
If the owner specifically decides that some of the documents are part of Trump’s claims of executive privilege, that could impede the government’s investigation.
Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020 just months before leaving office, rejected the government’s argument that the record belongs to the government and that Trump is no longer president and therefore cannot claim privileges. executive.
She gave Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department until Friday to submit a proposed list of special master candidates jointly. Anyone selected by the court will need to have the required confidentiality qualifications and legal expertise.
It is not clear whether the Justice Department will appeal Cannon’s decision or on what grounds.
“The United States is reviewing the comments and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation,” said Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley.
Trump representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
However, in a post on his Society of Truth platform following Cannon’s decision, Trump wrote, “Remember, it takes courage and ‘courage’ to stand up to a Department of ‘Justice’. total corruption and the FBI
“LOTS OF SPECIAL TREATMENT”
Some legal experts on Monday called the judge’s order profoundly flawed
“That’s not what courts do”
He said it was odd that Cannon had blocked the Justice Department from reviewing the records at this stage of the investigation, even before the indictment was filed, said Jonathan Shaub, a former attorney for the Department of Justice. issued
“It gets a lot of special treatment,” Shaub said.
Cannon, in his decision, justified his actions by saying that Trump faced discrimination during a home search and that any future charges based on the seizure of records that profile 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 Justice Department argued that appointing a special expert made no sense because its screening team – a group of officers not part of the investigation – had done its job.
Officials identified and set aside about 520 pages that may have been an attorney-client privilege, prosecutors said in a September 1 hearing. The rest of the files were reviewed by the investigative team for criminal investigation.
In her ruling on Monday, Cannon said she continues to be concerned about the Justice Department conducting a review of her privilege, saying she is aware of at least two cases where members of the Investigation team were exposed to items that were later designated as having privileged abilities.
“These examples alone, even if completely unintentional, raise questions about the adequacy of the filter review process,” she writes.
Many former Justice Department attorneys, Democrats, and Republicans have criticized Trump’s call for a special master.
“I don’t think a master is particularly meant when it comes to documenting executive privilege,” Trump-appointed former attorney general Bill Barr told Reuters in an interview.
“If the documents are the subject of executive privilege, they involve formal discussions of executive actions and, by definition, 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 “amateur” and poorly reasoned.
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