Trump’s push for a special master in Mar-a-Lago docs case comes to an end

Former President Donald Trump’s quest for outside supervision of the Justice Department’s investigation into sensitive White House records seized at his Mar-a-Lago estate came to an end Thursday, after he failed to challenge an appeals court ruling rejecting such oversight.

Trump had a week to contest the issue before the full bench of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals or at the Supreme Court, but he did not. The appeals court formalized its ruling Thursday afternoon ending the so-called “special master” process a lower judge established in September.

The appeals court’s order means the DOJ probe into potentially illegal retention of national security secrets, theft of government records and obstruction of justice can move forward without any external restrictions on prosecutors’ and investigators’ use of nearly 3,000 records the FBI seized from Trump’s Florida home in August, pursuant to a search warrant.

The outcome ends an unusual gambit by Trump’s legal team to complicate the federal criminal probe that spilled into the open on Aug. 8, when FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago and hauled off numerous boxes of records and other personal effects.

“President Trump will continue to fight against weaponization of law enforcement and pursue appropriate legal avenues to obtain the items that were brazenly and illegally seized from his home during the Biden regime’s unconstitutional raid,” said Trump’s spokesperson Steven Cheung.

Despite uphill odds, Trump’s attorneys managed to persuade a Trump-appointed federal district court judge in Florida, Aileen Cannon, to agree to halt the Justice Department’s access to the documents and to appoint a special master to hear Trump’s objections to some of them being used in the investigation.

Even though about 100 of the documents bore classification markings like “Top Secret,” Trump claimed to have declassified them all. His attorneys asserted that they shouldn’t be used in the probe because they were covered by executive privilege. Prosecutors insisted that both claims were meritless.

Siding with Trump’s team, Cannon named a longtime federal court judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., Raymond Dearie, to serve as the special master. Dearie oversaw the process of cataloging the documents and receiving the Trump team’s objections to their use.

Just weeks into the process, however, prosecutors won an order from the 11th Circuit removing the documents with classification markings from the review and lifting a directive Cannon issued to share those documents with Trump’s lawyers. The tone of the appeals court ruling was so dismissive of Cannon’s reasoning that it appeared to throw the broader review into doubt. But it continued apace, with Dearie expected to issue his recommendations on Trump’s objections to particular documents by mid-December.

However, last week, a three-judge 11th Circuit panel issued a sweeping ruling against Trump on the broader document review, concluding that Cannon should never have agreed to the special master appointment in the first place.

Trump could have asked the 11th Circuit to take up that issue “en banc” or sought emergency relief from the Supreme Court, but he failed to pursue either option.