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Judge Delays Ruling on Trump’s Request for ‘Special Master’

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


A federal judge declined to rule on a request from former President Donald Trump to appoint a “special master” to review documents taken by the FBI during their search of Mar-a-Lago in early August.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon said at the hearing that she will issue a written ruling on Trump’s request “in due time.”

During the hearing, Trump lawyer Jim Trusty slammed the DOJ for allegedly trying to prosecute Trump at all costs, saying the FBI could have “taken an overdue library book” and it would have “suddenly turned into a criminal investigation.”

DOJ attorney Jay Bratt argued that Trump does not have the same legal privileges to classified documents as he did when he was in office.

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“He is no longer the president, and because he is not … he was unlawfully in possession of them,” Bratt said, referring to the documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago.

Judge Cannon reportedly appeared skeptical of the DOJ’s arguments at times.

“What is the harm of appointing a special master,” the judge said during the hearing. “What is your articulation of harm other than the general concern that it would delay a criminal investigation?”

“She also floated the idea of letting the director of national intelligence review of the documents continue while halting the criminal investigation for a time and letting a special master review the materials. Trump’s team and the DOJ also disagreed during the hearing about the gravity of national security documents being stored at Mar-a-Lago,” Fox News reported.

“We need to take a deep breath. These are presidential records in the hands of the 45th president at a place which was used frequently for work during his presidency,” Trump attorney Christopher Kise said.

The Department of Justice submitted a filing on Tuesday to the court explaining its reasoning for opposing Trump’s request for a “special master” to review the seized documents for potential attorney-client privileged and executive privileged documents.

The DOJ’s filing included an attachment of a photo showing supposed “top secret” documents laid out all over the floor of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago from the August 8 raid.

Below is a tweet featuring the DOJ’s image that was roundly mocked on social media:

“That TIME Magazine cover was huge threat to national security,” the GOP House Judiciary said.

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The Department of Justice responded to Judge Cannon regarding Trump’s request for a “special master” to be appointed.

The DOJ claimed designating a special master — a third-party lawyer appointed by the court to oversee part of the case — would be a threat to national security.

“The Justice Department argued in a court filing that Trump lacks the legal standing to appoint a special master. Appointing that watchdog could harm national security, the agency warned,” CNBC reported. “The department also said it has evidence that government records likely were concealed and removed from a storage room at Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

“Trump had sued to block the Justice Department from further investigating any materials taken in the raid until a court-appointed special master is able to analyze them. That step is typically taken when there is a chance that some evidence should be withheld from prosecutors because of various legal privileges,” the outlet added.

“As an initial matter, the former President lacks standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to Presidential records because those records do not belong to him,” the DOJ wrote to Judge Cannon.

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The DOJ claimed in its court filing on Tuesday that the FBI had “uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating … that classified documents remained” at Mar-a-Lago.

“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the DOJ wrote.

The Justice Department’s filing came days after Judge Cannon announced her preliminary intent to appoint a special master, as requested by the attorneys for Trump, to review documents that the FBI took from Mar-a-Lago.

Cannon said the decision was made based on submissions from the former president’s attorneys and “the exceptional circumstances presented,” Fox News reported.

Meanwhile, U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart, the judge who approved the FBI’s search warrant, rejected an argument from the Department of Justice last week and admitted the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago was “unprecedented.”

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In a filing, Reinhart rejected the Justice Department’s argument to keep the affidavit “sealed,” citing the “intense public and historical interest.”

Reinhart wrote that he rejects “the Government’s argument that the present record justifies keeping the entire Affidavit under seal.”

“The Government argues that even requiring it to redact portions of the Affidavit that could not reveal agent identities or investigative sources and methods imposes an undue burden on its resources and sets a precedent that could be disruptive and burdensome in future cases,” Reinhart wrote. “I do not need to reach the question of whether, in some other case, these concerns could justify denying public access; they very well might.”

He added: “Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former President’s residence, the Government has not yet shown that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify sealing.”

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