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Judge Signals Intent to Appoint Special Master in Trump Search


A federal judge in Florida gave notice on Saturday of her “preliminary intent” to appoint an independent arbiter, often known as a special master, to conduct a review of the highly sensitive documents that were seized by the F.B.I. this month during a search of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s club and residence in Palm Beach.

In an unusual decision that fell in need of a proper order, the judge, Aileen M. Cannon of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida, signaled that she was inclined to agree with the previous president and his lawyers that a special master must be appointed to review the seized documents.

But Judge Cannon, who was appointed by Mr. Trump in 2020, set a hearing for arguments within the matter for Thursday within the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach — not the one in Fort Pierce, Fla., where she typically works.

On Friday night, only hours after a redacted version of the affidavit used to acquire the warrant for the search of Mar-a-Lago was released, Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed court papers to Judge Cannon reiterating their request for a special master to weed out documents taken within the search that might be protected by executive privilege.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had initially asked Judge Cannon on Monday to appoint a special master, but their filing was so confusing and filled with bluster that the judge requested clarifications on several basic legal questions. The notice of intent by Judge Cannon was seen as something of a victory in Mr. Trump’s circle.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

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Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The discharge on Aug. 26 of a partly redacted affidavit utilized by the Justice Department to justify its search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence included information that gives greater insight into the continued investigation into how he handled documents he took with him from the White House. Listed here are the important thing takeaways:

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The federal government tried to retrieve the documents for greater than a yr. The affidavit showed that the National Archives asked Mr. Trump as early as May 2021 for files that needed to be returned. In January, the agency was in a position to collect 15 boxes of documents. The affidavit included a letter from May 2022 showing that Trump’s lawyers knew that he could be in possession of classified materials and that the Justice Department was investigating the matter.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

The fabric included highly classified documents. The F.B.I. said it had examined the 15 boxes Mr. Trump had returned to the National Archives in January and that all but certainly one of them contained documents that were marked classified. The markings suggested that some documents could compromise human intelligence sources and that others were related to foreign intercepts collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Takeaways From the Affidavit Utilized in the Mar-a-Lago Search

Prosecutors are concerned about obstruction and witness intimidation. To acquire the search warrant, the Justice Department needed to lay out possible crimes to a judge, and obstruction of justice was amongst them. In a supporting document, the Justice Department said it had “well-founded concerns that steps could also be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts within the affidavit were prematurely disclosed.”

The judge’s decision got here a day after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the warrant affidavit. A distinct federal judge, Bruce E. Reinhart, a magistrate judge in West Palm Beach, had ordered the unsealing of the document, albeit with large portions blacked out.

The affidavit said, amongst other things, that the Justice Department wanted to go looking Mar-a-Lago to make sure the return of highly classified documents that Mr. Trump had faraway from the White House, including some that department officials believed could jeopardize “clandestine human sources” who worked undercover gathering intelligence.

Special masters are a not unusual feature of criminal investigations that include the seizure by the federal government of disputed materials that might be protected by attorney-client privilege. A special master was appointed, for instance, after the F.B.I. raided the office of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen in 2018 and took away evidence that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump claimed must have been kept from investigators due to the nature of their skilled relationship.

Within the case of the search of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued that among the documents taken by the F.B.I. might be shielded not by attorney-client privilege, but quite by executive privilege, a vestige of Mr. Trump’s service as president. But legal scholars — and a few judges — have expressed skepticism that former presidents can unilaterally assert executive privilege over materials related to their time in office once they leave the White House.

In December, for instance, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that, despite his attempts to invoke executive privilege, Mr. Trump needed to turn over White House records related to the attack on the Capitol to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot.

In her notice of intent, Judge Cannon gave the Justice Department until Tuesday to file a response to Mr. Trump’s request. The judge also instructed prosecutors to send her under seal “a more detailed receipt” specifying the items that were seized by federal agents at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8. As a part of their initial request, Mr. Trump’s lawyers had asked for a whole inventory of what was taken in the course of the search, arguing that the receipt the F.B.I. had given them was insufficient.

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