A federal judge in Florida on Monday granted the request by Donald Trump for a special master to review the documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate by the Justice Department, marking a major legal victory for the former president.
U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee, gave the green light for an independent third party — rather than the government — to determine what is privileged material or might be personal items irrelevant to the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the potential mishandling of classified information.
“The Court is mindful that restraints on criminal prosecutions are disfavored, but finds that these unprecedented circumstances call for a brief pause to allow for neutral, third-party review to ensure a just process with adequate safeguards,” she said in her ruling.
Mr. Trump’s legal team made the request last month for a court-appointed special master after saying the FBI took documents protected under attorney-client privilege and executive privilege and that agents seized personal belongings.
The Justice Department previously argued that Mr. Trump lacked the right for a third party to review its work because the materials taken were properties of the government. It contended that a special master would be “unnecessary and significantly harm government interests, including national security interests,” by slowing down the investigation.
The FBI raid and the subsequent revelation that the former president was under criminal investigation ignited a political firestorm, with Republican accusations of political bias. Democrats argued it was further evidence that Mr. Trump was unfit for a second term. He is expected to officially announce a bid for another term at some point soon.
In a post on his social media site, Truth Social, Mr. Trump took aim at the Justice Department and law enforcement generally but did not mention the court ruling.
“Remember, it takes courage and ‘guts’ to fight a totally corrupt Department of ‘Justice’ and the FBI,” he wrote. “They are being pushed to do the wrong things by many sinister and evil outside sources. Until impartiality, wisdom, fairness, and courage are shown by them, our Country can never come back or recover — it will be reduced to being a Third World Nation!”
Judge Cannon ruled that the yet-to-be-named special master will review “the seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege.”
The order meant that the government must temporarily halt its review of the confiscated materials from Mr. Trump’s South Florida home as it relates to the criminal investigation but allowed intelligence officials to continue their assessment of whether national security may have been damaged.
The judge did not rule that any of the records should be returned to the former president.
The Justice Department said Monday that it’s considering its next steps.
Elie Mystal, a legal correspondent for the left-wing magazine The Nation, blasted the ruling. He said on MSNBC that he was not surprised because “Trump judges do not believe in the rule of law.”
“They do not believe in precedent. They do not believe in facts. They do not believe in logic,” he said. “They just believe whatever’s going to help Donald Trump, and they’ve proven it again and again and again.”
Mr. Trump’s attorneys argued in a filing last week that “unchecked investigators” could not be trusted to conduct a fair investigation.
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump called President Biden an “enemy of the state” in his first rally since the Mar-a-Lago search.
“There could be no more vivid example of the very real threats of American freedom than just a few weeks ago you saw when we witnessed one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history,” Mr. Trump said. “The shameful raid and breaking of my home Mar-a-Lago was a travesty of justice.”