Special Master Appointment May Slow Down Justice Department Investigation
In a surprise move, a federal judge gave former President Donald Trump a significant legal victory when she granted his request to appoint a special master to review the documents seized from his home at Mar-a-Lago last month.Read More »
About the Ruling
The important ruling came from District Judge Aileen Cannon, allowing a third-party lawyer to go over all of the materials seized during the search. In addition to reviewing the materials covered under attorney-client privilege rules, the ruling also allows the special master to deal with executive privilege concerns.
While the ruling was no doubt a win for Trump’s legal team, Cannon fell short of agreeing with their assertion that there had been what his attorneys argued was a “callous disregard” for Trump’s individual constitutional rights during the search. Cannon also did not rule in Trump’s favor by agreeing to the request that the materials taken from his residence should be returned.
What Comes Next?
There is still a good amount of uncertainty surrounding how the legal process will proceed in the coming weeks and months. Cannon laid out an immediate plan addressing how to proceed for the rest of the week. For example, she told Trump’s attorneys and prosecutors to decide on the proposed candidates to be appointed to the role of special master.
She also asked both parties to confer about the specific duties of this role as well as the limitations. Lastly, Cannon asked for input about the schedule and pacing of the review and how much the special master should be compensated for their work.
Cannon gave both sides until this Friday to submit their input regarding these questions. Although it is unlikely that the two parties will agree on much, putting it all in writing will help Cannon to lay out the details of the review process.
How Will the 60-Day Rule Impact the Investigation?
The upcoming midterm elections puts an interesting wrench into how the investigation will play out in the coming weeks. While it is not official in nature, the DOJ typically abides by a practice that discourages public investigative work that could impact the results of an election within 60 days of Election Day. While Trump is not a candidate in the upcoming November election, his allies are arguing that the DOJ investigation could influence what voters decide when they head to the polls.
It is not yet clear if the the DOJ will change its approach because of this historical practice or whether the decision to move forward with a special master may also impact the 60-day rule. All signs point to the investigation being in its infancy stages, meaning that there is still a significant amount of evidence that could be revealed if the DOJ does not step back because of the impending election.
Judge Did Not Prohibit Review of Evidence to Continue
Despite all of the uncertainty surrounding the decision to appoint the special master, the judge did not prohibit intelligence officers from continuing the work of poring through the documents as part of its normal damage assessment regarding any possible risks to national security.
According to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, the intelligence community has been working in partnership with the FBI since the middle of May to research all of the materials taken from Mar-a-Lago since the query began.
The intelligence review is designed to determine if the materials found at Trump’s resort home and office have put national security at risk. Conversely, the FBI investigation is looking into whether Trump is tied to three potential crimes. These three potential crimes are the criminal handling of government records, violations of the Espionage Act, and obstruction of justice.
However, it is important to note that the decision to appoint a special master could slow down the investigative process. A spokesperson with the DOJ said on Monday that they are still considering their next steps. This statement has led some experts to believe that the DOJ could appeal the ruling.
Should the DOJ formally appeal the ruling to appoint a special master, the case would be handed to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. It is also possible that the DOJ could decide to only appeal part of the lengthy ruling.
Trump Received Special Consideration
It is clear throughout the ruling that Cannon gave Trump unique considerations when deciding to honor his request for a special master. Cannon repeatedly referenced what she called the “extraordinary circumstances” of the case.
The unprecedented search of the private residence of a former U.S. president is certainly something to consider, according to Cannon. She was also concerned about the stigma that could come with a case that was brought wrongfully against a former president.
Experts maintain that while Cannon was appointed to her current role by Trump, that fact alone should not be enough to cause her to recuse herself from the case.
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