A federal judge on Monday authorized the appointment of a special master to review records seized from former President Donald Trump‘s Florida residence by the FBI in a raid last month, a move that had been sought by his lawyers.
Judge Aileen Cannon at the same time temporarily blocked the Department of Justice from reviewing or using the seized material for investigative purposes, until the special master’s examination of the documents is completed, or until a further court order.
That independent third party will examine “the seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege,” Cannon wrote in her order in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Cannon said her order would not impede an ongoing review of classified documents found at Trump’s residence and the assessment of any possible damage on U.S. intelligence by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The DOJ is conducting a criminal probe of the removal of government records from the White House to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach when he left office in January 2021. By law, such records should have been given to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of Trump’s term.
The judge, who was appointed by Trump, in her ruling nodded at the fact that the Aug. 8 raid at Mar-a-Lago was the first time that law enforcement authorities had ever searched the residence of a former president as part of a criminal probe of that person.
As Trump’s lawyers argued at a court hearing last week, Cannon wrote, “the investigation and treatment of a former president is of unique interest to the general public, and the country is served best by an orderly
process that promotes the interest and perception of fairness.”
Cannon ordered the DOJ and Trump’s lawyers to confer and jointly submit a list of proposed special master candidates by Friday. She also told them to outline what they believe should be the special master’s duties and limitations, as well as the watchdog’s compensation.
Trump had asked for a special master to be appointed weeks after the raid, during which FBI agents found more than 10,000 government documents, more than 100 of which were classified or highly classified.
FBI agents also found four dozen empty document folders marked “classified” during the raid, 43 or which were found in Trump’s office. The remaining five empty folders with that marking were found in containers in a storage room.
The FBI also found another 42 empty folders marked “Return to Staff Secretary/Miliary [sic] Aide,” during the raid.
The DOJ had opposed the appointment of that watchdog, arguing that Trump had no right to possess the records, and that a special master review would delay its ongoing criminal investigation.
But Cannon in her order said she did not believe that the review by the special master “under the present circumstances would cause undue delay.”
The DOJ and a spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cannon’s order.
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