A special master for documents taken from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago could complicate case

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A federal judge’s indication that she is willing to appoint a special master to review material seized by federal agents from Mar-a-Lago brings new complications and unresolved legal questions into the high stakes of a federal judge. the federal government to control the documents of former President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s two-page injunction issued Saturday seemed unusual because the judge has not yet heard the Justice Department’s arguments, former federal prosecutors and legal analysts said on Sunday.

Cannon, 41, who appointed Trump to the bench in Florida’s Southern District in 2020, has also given federal officials until Tuesday to provide the court with a more detailed list of items the FBI seized from Trump’s estate on Aug. 8. had removed in Florida.

She asked the government for a status report of its own assessment of the materials and arranged a court hearing Thursday in West Palm Beach, Florida. That location is about an hour’s drive from the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she usually hears cases.

But her ruling left unclear how a special captain would work and who might qualify to take on such a role in a case involving classified national security secrets.

“It must be someone with expertise and experience in classified and national defense intelligence. Those people don’t grow on trees,” said Stanley M. Brand, a lawyer who focuses on representing clients involved in government investigations. “They are either former people in the government or lawyers with a lot of experience in those cases. But that will also be a contentious issue. We are on the border again.”

Legal experts said the very provisions Cannon requested from the Justice Department ahead of the hearing could call into question the need for a special master by the time the parties appear in court. For example, federal prosecutors could indicate that the government’s review is nearing completion. And it can produce such a detailed accounting of the seized documents that the judge could judge for himself whether they belong to the government.

“There has been a team assessing this for almost three weeks now. You don’t collect this stuff just to let it sit there and not get started. There’s public pressure on them,” said Mary McCord, who served as acting assistant attorney general for national security during the Obama administration.

The government could report that it is already well advanced with its assessment, she added, delaying an assessment by a special master.

“Then you can’t put the milk back in the bottle,” McCord said. “Obviously she didn’t tell them to stop so they can keep judging until she makes a ruling.”

According to the official inventory, authorities removed more than two dozen boxes of material during the search, including 11 sets of classified documents, some of which had been marked top secret.

Trump’s Secret Papers and the “Myth” of the Presidential Security Clearance

Cannon’s hearing will take place independently of the search warrant approval process, which was signed by U.S. District Judge Bruce E. Reinhart.

On August 22, Trump’s legal team specifically filed a petition with the court to appoint a special master in a location other than Reinhart’s. His attorneys argued that the appointee should search through the material seized by the FBI and set aside any material that would have to be shielded by government administrative law.

Analysts stressed that such a figure — possibly a retired judge or a lawyer with specific expertise in executive privilege — would not be tasked with determining the legality of the FBI’s Aug. 8 search. or the merits of the search warrant affidavit, an edited version of which was released Friday on behalf of Reinhart.

Mar-a-Lago affidavit released

But Brand stressed that the presence of a special master could complicate matters if that person were to clash with the Justice Department’s own “filtering team” — also known as a “stench team.” officials who are not involved in the primary investigation and who must ensure that investigators do not see information that they are not entitled to and that could affect the case.

“The question for me is: what if the special master takes a different position than the taint team? How is that resolved?” said Brand. He also wondered how the trial would progress, as two judges — Reinhart and Cannon — now have jurisdiction over various aspects of the FBI’s search.

Such insecurities, Brand said, could work in Trump’s favor “because it’s to his advantage if this gets caught up in a tangle of lawsuits, as with so many things happening around him.”

The battle over the documents has been going on for months. Trump employees handed over some documents to the National Archives and Records Administration in January. But federal authorities, after determining that 184 of them had been classified, became alarmed that the former president was hiding more sensitive material that could endanger national security if it fell into the wrong hands.

Trump and his advisers have defended his actions by stating that he had received a permanent declassification order for documents brought to his residence, although there is no written record of such a directive and some former Trump associates have disputed the idea.

Cannon, who received her bachelor’s degree from Duke University and graduated from the University of Michigan law school, was an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of Florida from 2013 to 2020. She worked as a clerk for Judge Steven M. Colloton, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit by President George W. Bush.

Former Justice Department official Andrew Weissmann, who served as senior prosecutor in the investigation of special counsel for Robert S. Mueller III, said it is not clear that the Cannon court should uphold jurisdiction in this case, as the documents in question have been returned to the National Archives in Washington and are no longer in southern Florida.

He said that while special masters have been appointed in civil cases to review questions about attorney and client privilege, it is virtually unheard of for such a figure to be asked to review claims of executive privilege — especially given that Trump is no longer president. is and appears to have no stand for such a claim.

“DOJ has a lot of work to do in terms of not just setting out a particular position on a special master, but clarifying [Cannon] on issues of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege,” Weissmann said.

Still, he said, in seeking the special master in a 27-page lawsuit last week, Trump’s team has opened the door for Justice Department prosecutors to publicly discuss not just the former’s legal arguments. President, but also the factual inaccuracies.

The Department of Justice has generally refrained from commenting on ongoing investigations. But Attorney General Merrick Garland held a press conference after the FBI search to confirm he authorized the operation and to defend federal agents in the face of hostile criticism and physical threats from some of Trump’s allies and supporters.

“This is not a situation where you have to worry about how much to push at a press conference,” Weissmann said. “This is an application and the court is calling directly for a response to an application.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) responded to editorials in the affidavit on Aug. 28 to search former President Trump’s home. (Video: The Washington Post)

The battle over the documents has brought a new flashpoint to the country’s political debate, with less than 75 days left before the 2022 midterm elections.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who is an outspoken critic of Trump and reportedly a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, suggested without evidence that the timing of the search for Mar-a-Lago was intended to help Democrats in the midterm elections. .

“Former President Trump has been out of office for two years,” Sununu told CNN’s State of the Union. “We think this is a coincidence, a few months before the midterm elections?”

On Sunday, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has publicly defied Trump and much of the GOP for years, said it was hypocritical for members of his party to defend the former president after some of them had “spent years singing ‘lock her up’ on Hillary Clinton for some emails.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kinzinger pointed out that lawmakers would never have taken classified information from specialized, secure government facilities where it is typically viewed.

“If any of us would intentionally walk away with even one document… and our organization came to us and said you had to return this document and we refused to do it for years, we would be in real trouble” Kinzinger said.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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