Bill Barr says DoJ should appeal ‘wrong’ special master ruling on Trump documents

·3 min read

Donald Trump’s former attorney general says the recent ruling to appoint an outside arbiter for the documents in the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago investigation won’t get the former president out of legal jeopardy.

“I don’t think the appointment of the special master is going to hold up, but even if it does, I don’t see it fundamentally changing the trajectory,” Bill Barr told Fox News on Tuesday.

On Monday, a Florida federal judge ordered the appointment of a special master, a third-party reviewer to examine whether any of the documents seized from Mr Trump’s Florida estate last month are protected under the former president’s executive and attorney-client privilege rights.

The former Trump administration attorney general said the ruling was “wrong” and encouraged the Justice Department to appeal, but argued Mr Trump probably won’t escape prosecution regardless.

“The fundamental dynamics of the case are set,” Mr Barr added. “The government has very strong evidence of what it really needs to determine whether charges are appropriate, which is: government documents were taken; classified information was taken and not handled appropriately; and they are looking into, and there’s some evidence to suggest, that they were deceived. None of that really relates to the content of documents.”

Mr Trump and his attorneys requested a special master in August, shortly after federal agents executed a court-approved search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago club, turning up more than 100 “unique documents with classification markings”, including three stored in Mr Trump’s desk. Classification levels ranged from confidential – the lowest level of classification in the US system – to the highest, top secret.

The Department of Justice called the request “unprecedented” and incorrect, arguing Mr Trump couldn’t claim executive privilege both because the DOJ is part of the executive branch along with the White House, and because the former president is no longer in office.

“There is no role for a special master to play in executive privilege,” Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the DOJ, said during a court hearing on the issue.

The Florida federal court ultimately sided with Mr Trump, arguing the ruling was necessary because of the “undeniably unprecedented nature of the search of a former President’s residence,” the “importance of maintaining institutional trust” in the justice system, and what she described as “the interest in ensuring the integrity of an orderly process amidst swirling allegations of bias and media leaks”.

Now, federal officials can’t use any of the documents they seized to further their investigation until the special master conducts its review, a process that could take months.

They have hinted that they could continue using other strategies, including witness interviews.

Many outside observers were mystified by the decision.

Constitutional law expert Steve Vladeck of the University of Texas wrote on Twitter that the ruling was “preposterous” and “just a sad day for the courts”.

“This is twisting the law into a pretzel in ways that are as unsupported in precedent as they are unlikely to be followed in any future cases,” he said on Monday.

The Justice Department said it’s considering options for review.

“The United States is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation,” a spokesperson told The New York Times.

Mr Barr has evolved from a Trump ally to a frequent critic.

In recent days, he’s dismissed the argument from many conservatives that Donald Trump was the victim of unprecedented scrutiny. Rather, Mr Barr has argued, he’s be rightfully searched for his own unprecedented conduct.

“People say this was unprecedented, well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay?” he told Fox News last week.