Everything you need to know about Trump’s push for a ‘special teacher’

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A Florida federal judge has ruled in favor of former President Donald Trump’s request for a special master to review documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago home as part of an investigation into his handling of records sensitive governments. At issue is whether he can prevent prosecutors from using documents he says should be protected by some form of legal privilege. The Department of Justice had opposed the request. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, appointed to the bench by Trump, also temporarily barred the government from using the treasury to expand its criminal investigation into the former president during the review.

1. What is a special master?

Federal judges have wide discretion to appoint outside experts, known as special masters, to help them handle certain parts of a case. Special masters are sometimes retired judges with direct experience supervising litigation, but they don’t have to be. Reviewing documents to see if there is evidence that a party is not legally entitled to have is a role that special masters can play, but judges call on them to perform a variety of services: they have advised judges on new areas of law, managed mountains of data in complex corporate litigation and oversaw the disbursement of settlement funds. The parties can propose candidates, but it is up to the judge to choose. The judges also decide who pays for the services of the special master – it can be a 50-50 split between the parties, but not always – and set deadlines for their work.

2. Why did Trump ask for one?

Trump argues that at least some of the documents seized by the FBI in the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago are privileged, meaning they are covered by legal protections that make them barred to federal prosecutors. Trump cited attorney-client privilege, which covers communications between attorneys and their clients, and solicitor-client privilege, a doctrine that seeks to protect a president’s ability to communicate freely with his close advisers. Trump referenced those two privileges in accusing federal investigators of abusing their power and seizing documents they weren’t authorized to take under the search warrant. He asked Cannon to appoint a special master to review the documents and prevent the DOJ from viewing them in the meantime.

3. How is this generally handled?

In investigations involving potentially privileged material, the DOJ may employ a separate group of FBI agents and prosecutors to collect and review evidence to identify and separate any potentially privileged material; the government said it had already done so for the Mar-a-Lago search. Relying on such a “filtering” or “contaminating” team prevents lead investigators from being exposed to information they are not authorized to see, which could disqualify them or jeopardize a future prosecution.

4. How do some cases end up with special masters?

Defendants who do not want the government to review the privilege can ask a judge to summon a special master. It happened during the criminal investigation of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. The judge in that case explained that he had ‘faith’ that prosecutors’ integrity was ‘beyond reproach’, but that bringing in a special handler would help with the ‘perception of fairness’ given the unique circumstances at stake. Citing the Cohen case, New York prosecutors asked a judge to appoint a special counsel after seizing documents from two other Trump lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing. Trump highlighted these cases in his pitch for a special master in the records case.

5. Was Trump’s request unusual?

A request for a special master is not unusual, but a few things set Trump’s situation apart. Very few criminal investigations potentially involve executive privilege, so bringing in a special master to look into this matter would be a rarity. There’s also the timing: Cohen went to court to try to prevent the government from looking at his documents almost immediately after the search. The DOJ went to court days after Giuliani’s and Toensing’s searches, and government attorneys made it clear they had not begun to review the seized documents. Legal experts have also questioned why Trump did not file his special lead request with the federal magistrate judge who signed the warrant and was already presiding over a case related to the release of the warrant documents; filing a new case meant Trump landed before a different judge, randomly assigned to the Florida bench. The DOJ was against using a special master, but argued that if the judge went that route, it would have to be someone with a top-secret security clearance, another unusual item.

6. What did the government say?

The Justice Department argued during the hearing that Trump was not entitled to a special principal review, and that allowing one now would be unprecedented because the documents seized do not belong to him. If the judge grants his request, they say appointing a special master is “unnecessary” given the processes already in place to look for privilege issues and would hamper a parallel intelligence review. They also clarified that Trump is too late to at least block the screening team from viewing the documents. In an Aug. 29 filing, DOJ officials wrote that the task force had identified a “limited set” of seized documents that “potentially” include information covered by solicitor-client privilege, and were working out what to do with it. . The filing did not mention executive privilege, but did indicate that there were other eyes on the documents – that the DOJ and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) were reviewing the classification status of the documents and that , separately, ODNI was analyzing the potential risks to national security if classified material found at Mar-a-Lago were released.

7. What did the judge say?

Cannon ruled special master can review documents seized for both attorney-client privilege and executive privilege, saying Supreme Court has not resolved whether a former president can assert executive privilege against the administration of the incumbent president. Cannon also questioned the Justice Department’s assertion that Trump has no ownership interest in presidential records seized from his residence because they belong to the government — not him. “This position calls for an ultimate judgment on the merits of these documents and their designations,” Cannon said, adding that the government had already admitted the search resulted in the seizure of more than 500 pages of documents potentially covered by an attorney. . client privilege. The judge said in her Sept. 5 decision that the government could continue to access the documents — many of which bear the nation’s highest classification marks — for the limited purposes of conducting a national security review already underway.

8. How might this affect the investigation?

Cannon’s suggestion that the Supreme Court may have to decide the issue indicates the possibility of a significant delay in the case. It could prove a major setback for the Justice Department, which argued in court that the investigation was urgent and urgent. Cannon in the ruling said the exact details of the review process will be decided after both parties submit proposals. She asked the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers to submit candidates for a special master’s degree by September 9. A special master advises a judge, but does not make the final decision. They typically submit a report to the judge with recommendations — in a case like Trump’s, setting out what they think should happen to the disputed documents — and the parties might then have a chance to weigh in before the judge decides. pronounce.

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