(The Hill) – A federal judge on Monday granted former President Trump’s request to appoint an independent special master to review materials the FBI seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence last month.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is a Trump appointee, dismissed objections from the Department of Justice (DOJ), blocking prosecutors from further reviewing or using the seized documents in their investigation until the special master completes their review.
Cannon asked DOJ and Trump’s attorneys to submit a joint filing by Friday that includes a proposed special master candidate list.
Trump has accused the FBI and DOJ of executing the search for political purposes, also claiming that some of the documents were protected by attorney-client privilege and executive privilege.
The DOJ had argued in court that a special master appointment would stall its investigation of Trump and that he did not have the authority to claim executive privilege from his time in the White House since he is no longer in office.
“With respect to the Government’s ongoing criminal investigation, the Court does not find that a temporary special master review under the present circumstances would cause undue delay,” Cannon wrote in the ruling.
The FBI’s search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence on Aug. 8 came as part of a federal investigation into whether Trump violated the Espionage Act and two other statutes. Agents recovered 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records, although the potential violations do not rely on the documents being classified.
Raising concerns about privileged materials seized in the search, Trump demanded the appointment of a special master two weeks later. Cannon previously announced her preliminary intent to grant the request.
Trump’s demand came as he separately pushed for the release of the unredacted affidavit that led another federal judge to approve the search warrant. That judge released a redacted copy late last month.
Alongside his request for a special master, Trump also asked Cannon to order the return of the seized property from Mar-a-Lago. Cannon on Monday declined to make such a ruling.
“Plaintiff ultimately may not be entitled to return of much of the seized property or to prevail on his anticipated claims of privilege,” Cannon wrote. “That inquiry remains for another day.”
The Hill has reached out to a DOJ spokesperson for comment.
Although she temporarily blocked the DOJ from using the materials in its investigation, Cannon said the intelligence community’s ongoing damage assessment of the documents’ storage at Mar-a-Lago could continue.
DOJ had argued that Trump lacked standing to request a special master because his presidential records were owned by the government, not Trump himself. The judge dismissed the objection, arguing that although Trump may not have ownership of many of the materials, “genuine disputes” exist as to whether others constituted personal records.
Prosecutors also said Trump could not claim executive privilege as a former president against the current executive branch, but Cannon said DOJ’s position “arguably overstates the law.”
DOJ also argued that its filter team already examined the materials to separate privileged documents before handing them off to investigators, so a special master would be unnecessary and cause further delay.
Cannon called into question the accuracy of the filtering, noting that investigators on at least two occasions were given materials they believed were potentially privileged and handed them back to the filter team.
“These instances certainly are demonstrative of integrity on the part of the Investigative Team members who returned the potentially privileged material,” Cannon wrote. “But they also indicate that, on more than one occasion, the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening failed to identify potentially privileged material.”