Tuesday, October 4, 2022

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US judge sides with Trump, suspends document review

Court appoints “special masters” to review files seized from former US President’s Florida home for privileged material.

Washington, D.C. – A US judge has denied the Justice Department’s request to allow investigators to continue reviewing classified documents seized from Donald Trump’s Florida home during an FBI raid last month.

Judge Aileen Cannon said in a decision late Thursday that she would maintain the temporary suspension until the files were reviewed by an independent arbitrator.

Separately, Cannon appointed veteran federal judge Raymond Dearie as a “special master” to review the material for content covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

The Justice Department had appealed Cannon’s order to appoint a special foreman to review documents seized Aug. 8 from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

But earlier this week, government lawyers said they had not opposed a proposal by Trump’s legal team to appoint Dearie to the post.

Pending her appeal, prosecutors urged Cannon to lift her stay on reviewing the classified documents, but Cannon — one appointed by Trump — sided with the former president on Thursday.

“The Court does not consider it appropriate to accept the Government’s conclusions on these important and contentious issues without further review by a neutral third party in an expedited and orderly manner,” she wrote.

Dearie, the special master, will hold an initial hearing on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported, citing a court filing.

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s possible misappropriation of classified documents, and FBI agents in their search in Mar-a-Lago have recovered a wealth of government files, including dozens of documents marked as “classified.”

US prosecutors have argued that stopping reviews of classified documents will do “the most immediate and serious harm” to the US government and the public.

“The classified records — a discrete set of just over 100 documents — have already been separated from the other seized records and are being held separately,” the Justice Department wrote in a Sept. 8 filing to Cannon.

The Justice Department also rejects the notion that Trump has “executive privilege” as a former president. The term refers to the president’s authority to keep certain types of internal communications within his administration secret.

The judge had allowed an intelligence community to review the materials for classified documents and potential national security risks.

Trump’s lawyers said last week that not all documents marked “secret” recovered from Trump’s Florida home are necessarily classified files, suggesting the former president may have declassified them before leaving office.

Cannon appeared to agree with them on Thursday, saying a special master is needed to sort the files. The Justice Department had said it would ask an appeals court to continue the review if Cannon’s hiatus was not suspended.

Cannon has been widely criticized by legal scholars who say it is unusual for the judiciary to intervene in ongoing investigations, which risks jeopardizing witnesses and documents.

Trump and his allies have dismissed the probe, saying without evidence that it was politically motivated.

President Joe Biden denies having any prior knowledge of the search and insists the White House should not interfere in the Justice Department’s investigation.

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