What is a special master?


(NewsNation) — Lawyers for the Department of Justice and Donald Trump met Tuesday for the first time with the special master tasked with reviewing documents seized from the former president’s Florida home in Mar-a-Lago.

So what does this role entail?

“Special master, really, is kind of a fancy name for judge’s helper,” David R. Cohen said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America.” Cohen is an Ohio-based attorney who has served as a special master in civil and criminal cases for 20 years. He explained that when a judge gets complex litigation on very complex issues, either the judge themself or the parties involved will suggest that the court get help by appointing a special master.

In the Mar-a-Lago case, Judge Aileen Cannon asked Judge Raymond Dearie to look over thousands of documents after a special master was requested by Trump’s team. Dearie is now responsible for sifting through thousands of documents recovered during the FBI search on Mar-a-Lago, and separating any that are protected by claims of the executive or attorney-client privilege.

After Dearie makes his recommendation on the documents, Cohen said, the parties will have an opportunity to object. Cannon will have the final say, but even that can still be appealed, Cohen said.

Trump’s lawyers have resisted Dearie’s request for more information about whether the seized records were declassified, like the former president has claimed. His legal team said in a separate filing Tuesday that the Justice Department had not proven that the documents were classified, but stopped short of officially saying they were declassified.

Dearie was skeptical of this argument, though. If Trump’s lawyers don’t actually assert that the records have been declassified, and the Justice Department instead makes an acceptable case that they remain classified, Dearie said he will be inclined to regard them as such.

“The appeal will address some of that, as well as the question of whether these classified documents can be used even while the special master has undertaken his review,” Cohen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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