After the Department of Justice (DOJ) raided former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on August 8, the case became highly political and legal. The DOJ asserted Trump took classified documents belonging to the government to the Florida estate before he left office in January 2021. The 45th president argued he declassified them and that he enjoys executive privilege.
On Thursday, September 15, US District Court Judge Aileen Cannon appointed a special master against the federal prosecutor’s wishes. The judge rejected several assertions by the DOJ, and the decision could be a big win for Trump.
Judge Appoints a Special Master
Cannon appointed US District Judge Raymond Dearie to serve as the special master. He previously served on the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) between 2011 and 2019, which authorizes the government to secure secret warrants. Both the DOJ and Trump attorneys agreed to Dearie. Cannon tasked the independent arbitrator with deciding if any documents were privileged materials and if they should be off limits to investigators looking into whether or not Trump committed a crime.
Allegedly, the FBI took sensitive classified materials as well as confidential attorney-client documents. A special master is codified in federal law and is an authority appointed by a judge to ensure judicial rulings are followed. They are assigned per Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Cannon authorized Dearie to conduct a full review of the documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago and to offer recommendations to her about any disputes between the DOJ and defense attorneys. Additionally, the special master’s responsibilities include identifying personal documents and items belonging to Trump and reporting back to the court if disagreements arise about what belongs to the government or the former president.
Federal Court Pushes Back Against DOJ
The DOJ argued before the court that Trump didn’t have the standing to ask the court to appoint a special master, return property that was not in the scope of the search warrant, or injunctive relief. Investigators said the records they were searching for belonged to the government and stated the ex-commander-in-chief didn’t have executive privilege because the DOJ is part of the executive branch.
Cannon disagreed with the government’s perspective that the records belonged to it. She also disputed that the former president couldn’t invoke executive privilege simply because he’s no longer the serving president. The DOJ said it is appealing her ruling.
Still, Dearie is already hard at work and wasting no time. The judge gave him until November 30 to complete a review and ordered Trump to pay for the total cost of it. Dearie ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers to appear at the Brooklyn Courthouse on Tuesday, September 20, for a preliminary conference.