September 6, 2022
A federal judge will appoint a special master to sift through nearly 13,000 documents and items that the FBI seized on August 8 from Donald Trump’s Florida residence and club, Mar-a-Lago, and identify any that may be protected by attorney-client or executive privilege, according to a court order posted on Monday, September 5, reports The Washington Post.
U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon—who was nominated by Trump in 2020—wrote in her decision that the Justice Department cannot continue reviewing the materials seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago or use them in its criminal investigation until the special master concludes his or her assessment.
But Cannon ruled that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would be allowed to continue its ongoing assessment of the possible risk to national security posed by the removal from government custody of classified documents, some of them related to highly sensitive government and intelligence secrets.
In her opinion, Cannon sided with Trump’s legal team and said that the former president does retain some executive privileges after leaving office—a stance that the Justice Department disagrees with.
“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,” the ruling states.
Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley said the government “is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation.” A representative for Trump immediately returned requests for comment on the ruling.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that an objective outside expert should review the thousands of White House and government documents that were kept at Mar-a-Lago despite months of efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Justice Department, to get them back.
In addition to identifying whether any of the documents should be shielded from prosecutors because of attorney-client or executive privilege, lawyers for the 45th president said, such a review would boost “trust” in the ongoing criminal investigation over the possible mishandling of classified documents after Trump left the White House.
Trump and his lawyers and allies have accused the Justice Department of having political motives in conducting the investigation and of unnecessarily escalating it into a criminal probe.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has declined to discuss the ongoing investigation, in keeping with general Justice Department practice. But he said days after the August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago that “Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.”
While the FBI raid of Trump’s Florida residence and private club has triggered an outpouring of condemnation from the former president and his Republican allies, some Republicans have said the search may have been necessary.
In an interview that aired Friday, former Trump attorney general William P. Barr said there is no reason classified documents should have been at Mar-a-Lago after Trump was no longer president.
People say this was unprecedented,” Barr said in an interview with Fox News. “But it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?”
In opposing the appointment of a special master, Justice Department lawyers told Cannon they had already sorted through the documents, using a “filter team” to separate out more than 500 pages of potentially privileged documents. That arrangement was approved by a U.S. magistrate judge who authorized the Mar-a-Lago search warrant.
Prosecutors said appointing a special master would be pointless, given the previous filter team review—but Cannon disagreed. They also said that there was no legal basis to appoint a special master in this case and that Trump had no rights to possess White House documents once he left office.
On Friday, September 2, Cannon unsealed a detailed inventory list of items seized from Mar-A-Lago. It showed that Trump intermingled classified and unclassified materials in boxes at Mar-A-Lago and had dozens of empty folders that bore a “classification” marking.
Research contact: @washingtonpost