- Judge authorizes a special master to review documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.
- Donald Trump’s lawyers have argue the records could be protected by attorney-client privilege.
- The Justice Department opposed appointing a special master as unnecessary.
A federal judge in Florida approved Donald Trump’s request Monday for a special master to review the documents seized during a search of his estate Mar-a-Lago, which included “secret” and “top secret” 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.
Cannon also temporarily blocked the Justice Department from reviewing the seized records for investigative purposes. 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 potential crimes.
Cannon ruled the Director of National Intelligence could continue to review the documents, to determine risks to national security.
“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 is reviewing the decision and declined further comment.
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 government to return documents to the National Archives and Records Administration or other government agencies.
Trump voluntarily returned 15 boxes in January, but federal authorities 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.