The Reuters news agency reported on September 5 that in Washington, DC. Justice Department’s criminal probe is likely to be delayed after a federal judge agreed on Monday to appoint a special master to evaluate papers seized by the FBI during its search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, ruled in favor of Trump’s request for a special master, an impartial third party who is sometimes appointed in high-stakes cases to analyze evidence that may be protected by the attorney-client privilege.
According to Cannon, the individual’s responsibilities will include analyzing records that may be subject to presidential privilege as well as those protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Executive privilege is a legal tenet that can protect some White House papers from disclosure, thus the decision to enable a special master to review them is an unexplored legal area.
Additionally, Cannon ordered the Justice Department to cease studying the records as part of its criminal investigation, which is likely to impede its ability to continue investigating, at least in the short term.
Cannon, though, assured the public that American intelligence agencies were free to continue their investigation into whether or not the release of the documents would compromise national security.
After Trump departs from the White House in January 2021, he is suspected of taking highly confidential documents from the building and keeping them at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach.
After the FBI found evidence that Trump’s team may have purposefully buried secret papers when agents tried to collect them in June, the Justice Department said that it was also investigating possible obstruction.
The government’s probe could be hampered if the special master rules that some of the documents are protected by Trump’s claims of executive privilege.
The government’s contention that the records belong to the government and that Trump is no longer president and therefore cannot claim executive privilege was rejected by Cannon, who was nominated by Trump in 2020, just months before he left office.
She extended the deadline for Trump’s legal team and the Department of Justice to submit a proposed list of special master candidates to the court until this coming Friday. Whoever the court chooses to choose will need to have appropriate clearances and knowledge of the law.
Whether or not the Justice Department will appeal Cannon’s verdict, and if so, on what grounds, is yet unknown.
In light of the opinion, the United States is “considering appropriate next steps in the continuing litigation,” according to Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley.
Trump’s representatives did not return a call seeking comment.
Cannon’s ruling prompted Trump to post on Truth Social: “Remember, it takes courage and ‘guts’ to fight a corrupt Department of ‘Justice’ and the FBI.”
`A WHOLE LOT OF SPECIAL TREATMENT`
On Monday, some lawyers said the judge’s order was severely defective.
Former Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Shaub remarked, “This is not something courts do.”
He found Cannon’s decision to prevent a Justice Department review of the records before an indictment was even handed down as peculiar.
It’s a lot of preferential treatment, Shaub remarked.
Cannon defended her ruling by saying that any future indictment based on the seizure of those records would cause “reputational harm” to Trump because of the stigma associated with having his home searched.
Without providing any proof, Trump has claimed that the Justice Department is conducting a politically motivated witch hunt against him. They suggested that having a neutral party assess the evidence would serve as a check on the government’s power.
Since the Justice Department’s filter team, comprised of agents who were not involved in the investigation, had already finished its work, the agency contended that it was unnecessary to appoint a special master.
Prosecutors stated at a hearing on September 1 that the agents had identified and redacted roughly 520 pages that could be protected by the attorney-client privilege. The criminal investigation team has already evaluated the remaining records.
Cannon had concerns in her Monday order regarding the Justice Department’s handling of privilege reviews, stating that she is aware of at least two instances in which members of the investigative team were access to data that was later labeled as possible protected.
She argued that just those isolated incidents raise doubts about the effectiveness of the filter review procedure, even if they were unintentional.
Trump’s call for a special master has been opposed by several former Justice Department attorneys, both Democrats, and Republicans.
“I don’t think a special master makes sense in connection with executive privilege material,” former Attorney General and Trump appointee Bill Barr told Reuters.
If the records are protected by executive privilege, it is because they contain government deliberations on executive acts.
The judge’s decision was “amateurish” and “not well-reasoned,” according to John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, and current associate attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
In an interview, Bolton advised the Justice Department to appeal the temporary injunction as soon as possible while still cooperating with and speeding up the implementation of the judge’s decision.