(WASHINGTON) – A federal judge on Monday granted a request by former President Donald Trump’s legal team to appoint a special master to review documents seized by the FBI from his Florida home last month and also temporarily halted the use of records by the Department of investigative justice aims.
U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon’s ruling came despite objections from the Justice Department, which said an outside legal expert was not needed, in part because officials had already finished reviewing potentially privileged documents. The judge had previously signaled her inclination to approve a special master, asking a department attorney during arguments this month: “What’s the harm?”
The appointment is likely to slow the department’s investigation into the presence of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago, given the judge’s directive that the Justice Department cannot use any of the seized material for investigative purposes at this time. But it is unclear whether this will have any significant effect on any investigative decisions or the final outcome of the investigation.
Cannon, who was nominated to the bench by Trump in 2020, said she would allow the US intelligence community’s risk assessment of the documents to continue.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that a special master — usually an outside attorney or former judge — is needed to provide an independent review of the records taken during the Aug. 8 search. Such a review was necessary, they said, so that any personal information or documents recovered by the FBI could be filtered out and returned to Trump, and so that any documents protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege could also can be separated from the rest of the investigation.
The Justice Department opposed the appointment, saying it was unnecessary because it had already reviewed potentially privileged documents and identified a limited subset of materials that could be covered by the attorney-client privilege.
It also says that Trump is not entitled to the return of any of the presidential records that were taken because he is no longer president and the documents therefore do not belong to him. And the personal items found were mixed with classified information, giving them potential value as evidence, the department said.
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