Judge approves special master to review documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, pauses DOJ probe
A federal judge in Florida approved former President Donald Trump's request Monday for a special master to review documents seized during a search of his estate Mar-a-Lago, which included secret and top-secret records, and temporarily halted the Justice Department's criminal investigation of the records.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon authorized the appointment to review the documents for potential claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, or to prevent government lawyers from reading those documents.
Justice Department lawyers have said they already reviewed the documents for Trump's claims of attorney and executive privilege, but they opposed halting the use of documents for the investigation of possible crimes.
Cannon ruled that the director of national intelligence could continue to review the documents to determine risks to national security.
'Reputational harm': Judge who ordered Mar-a-Lago special master cites risk of stigma for Trump
"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," Cannon ruled.
Cannon ruled that Trump had shown public and private interests at stake in the case supported a temporary halt to the government’s investigative use of the documents.
“As Plaintiff articulated at the hearing, 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 wrote.
The Justice Department said it was reviewing the decision. "The United States is examining the opinion and will consider appropriate next steps in the ongoing litigation," department spokesman Anthony Coley said.
Trump said the Justice Department and FBI were being pushed to do the wrong thing by "sinister outside sources."
"Remember, it takes courage and 'guts' to fight a totally corrupt Department of 'Justice' and the FBI," Trump said in a statement.
Cannon asked lawyers for Trump and the Justice Department to jointly submit a list of names of potential special masters by Sept. 9. She postponed a decision on whether to order the return of the documents to Trump.
FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 to find evidence of potential crimes such as the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. The search followed months of negotiations between lawyers for Trump and the government to return documents to the National Archives and Records Administration or other government agencies.
Trump returned 15 boxes in January, but federal authorities determined more Trump administration documents remained at Mar-a-Lago. FBI agents retrieved more classified documents with a subpoena on June 3.
Cannon released a detailed list Friday of where sensitive documents were found at Mar-a-Lago, in a storage room and in Trump's office. The list described classified documents with unmarked government records, photographs and even articles of clothing in a haphazard manner.
But government officials described the classified materials as some of the most sensitive secrets the government holds about intelligence gathering and human sources of information.
Cannon ruled that Trump risked substantial reputational damage from the government keeping and potentially using privileged documents.
"As a function of Plaintiff’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own," Cannon wrote. "A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida judge authorizes special master to review Trump search records