U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has granted a request from former President Donald Trump’s legal team to appoint a special master, who will review the documents seized in the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The ruling will cease all reviews of the documents by the Justice Department in its ongoing criminal investigation.
“The Court hereby authorizes the appointment of a special master to review the seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege,” the federal judge said in her order Monday.
“Furthermore, in natural conjunction with that appointment, and consistent with the value and sequence of special master procedures, the Court also temporarily enjoins the Government from reviewing and using the seized materials for investigative purposes pending completion of the special master’s review or further Court order.”
Judge Cannon clarified that appointment of a 3rd party investigator would not stop the ongoing classification review along with other national security assessments which are being carried out by the intelligence community.
“The Government may continue to review and use the materials seized for purposes of intelligence classification and national security assessments,” Cannon confirmed.
Cannon wrote that she is “mindful of the need to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances presented.”
Cannon cited what she referred to as “the power imbalance between the parties; the importance of maintaining institutional trust; and the interest in ensuring the integrity of an orderly process amidst swirling allegations of bias and media leaks.”
When pressed about attorney-client privilege matters, Cannon stated that, “the Government’s argument assumes that the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening for potentially privileged material was sufficient, yet there is evidence from which to call that premise into question here.”
Cannon went on to say that, “Without delving into specifics, the Privilege Review Team’s Report references at least two instances in which members of the Investigative Team were exposed to material that was then delivered to the Privilege Review Team and, following another review, designated as potentially privileged material.”
Cannon then added that, “Those instances alone, even if entirely inadvertent, yield questions about the adequacy of the filter review process.”
Cannon gave the DOJ and Trump’s team a deadline of Friday to liaise and then submit a joint list of proposed special master candidates and a proposed order outlining the special master’s duties and limitations.
Cannon said at this stage, she will delay making a ruling on whether Trump should have property returned to him that was taken from Mar-A-Lago.
“The United States is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement Monday afternoon.
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