Judge approves Trump special master request

Politics

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (NewsNation) — A federal judge has granted the request from former President Donald Trump’s legal team to appoint a special master to review the handling of classified documents seized during an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate on Aug. 8.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon came despite the objections of the Justice Department, which said an outside legal expert was not necessary in part because officials had already completed their review of potentially privileged documents.

With Monday’s approval, the Trump legal team has scored at least one victory in its defense against the Justice Department, although it may prove to be inconsequential in the end.

The appointment appears likely to slow the pace of the department’s investigation into the presence of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago, particularly given the judge’s directive that the Justice Department may not for the moment use any of the seized materials as part of its investigation into the storage of government secrets at the Florida property.

The Department of Justice previously argued that its own filter team had already reviewed all of the documents seized by the FBI in the Mar-a-Lago search and said that appointing a special master would be redundant in the case.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020, pressed prosecutors last week, asking “What is the harm?” in appointing a special master to the case.

Jay Bratt, the head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence wing, argued in court Trump had no right to possess the documents in the first place, given he is no longer president. He argued the appointment of a special master would slow down the Justice Department and FBI investigation.

Trump’s legal team however claimed in court last Thursday the special master would cool “very high” temperatures and rhetoric nationwide over the search at Mar-a-Lago and would be pivotal to ensuring an “independent review” of the case.

“We need to take a breath,” Trump lawyer Chris Kise said on Thursday.

Last week the Justice Department delivered a 36-page document, which included a picture of some of the top secret and classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago and explained the difficulty authorities have had working with Trump’s lawyers to recover the documents.

The Justice Department alleges some of the classified documents may have been “concealed” or “moved” during an earlier visit by DOJ officials to Mar-a-Lago, possibly setting the ground for obstruction charges to be brought in the case.

The Justice Department maintains that Trump lawyer Christina Bobb had signed off certifying that all classified documents had been returned to officials prior to the Aug. 8 search. The signed statement claimed a “diligent” search had been conducted by Trump’s team to find any stray documents.

A belief that claim by Bobb may have been untrue appears to be one of the factors that sparked the FBI investigation on Aug. 8. During that search the FBI did in fact find dozens of classified and top secret documents that Trump’s team neglected to inform them about, the filing says.

Trump’s legal team has danced through a variety of different explanations as to why those documents were at Mar-a-Lago, simultaneously claiming the documents were declassified by Trump and the FBI “planted” evidence inside the estate. Trump went so far as to call the search at Mar-a-Lago an attack on the entire country.

The Justice Department has argued it does not matter if the documents were declassified or not, citing the Presidential Records Act of 1973 which dictates all presidential records are the property of the public, not a former president when they leave office.

Trump has also repeatedly reiterated his false claim he won the 2020 presidential election since the Mar-a-Lago search.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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