Judge Names Special Master to Review FBI Raid Documents, Rejects DOJ Criminal Probe Request
Judge Names Special Master to Review FBI Raid Documents, Rejects DOJ Criminal Probe Request

By Caden Pearson

Florida-based U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday appointed a senior Brooklyn federal judge to serve as special master to independently review documents the FBI seized from former President Donald Trump‘s Florida estate.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie will serve as an independent arbiter in the case, tasked with deciding whether any of the seized documents are privileged and should be off limits to federal investigators.

Cannon, who was nominated by Trump in 2020, also rejected the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) bid to revive its criminal investigation into classified documents seized during the unprecedented raid at Mar-a-Lago last month. The matter is expected to move quickly to an appeals court, and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court.

The DOJ said in a court filing (pdf) on Monday that Dearie has “substantial judicial experience” in cases involving national security and privilege concerns to qualify him for the special master role, but that it opposed private attorney Paul Huck, the other candidate proposed by Trump’s lawyers.

Lawyers for Trump opposed Barbara S. Jones and Thomas B. Griffith, two retired federal judges whom the DOJ proposed to be the special master.

Republican President Ronald Reagan appointed Dearie to the federal bench in Brooklyn in 1986, where he was chief judge of that court from 2007 to 2011. Before that, he served as U.S. attorney there. He now serves as a semi-retired senior judge.

Dearie served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court between 2011 and 2019. That court reviews warrant applications from the U.S. government on matters of national security.

Special Master Duties

As part of his review of all the seized materials, Dearie is tasked with verifying that the property identified in the “Detailed Property Inventory” represents the “full and accurate extent” of the property seized, which may include obtaining sworn affidavits from DOJ personnel, according to court documents.

Dearie is also tasked with conducting a privilege review of the seized documents and making recommendations to the court about any disputes between the parties. He is furthermore assigned to identify personal documents and items, as well as presidential records, and make recommendations to the court about any categorization disputes.

He will also evaluate any claims by Trump’s lawyers for the return of property under Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and carry out any additional duties assigned by the court pursuant to subsequent orders.

Trump and his lawyers have been critical of the DOJ’s opposition to the court appointing a special master to review documents seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago.

The DOJ previously argued that Trump lacked standing to ask for the appointment of a special master, as well as the return of property that was not within the scope of the search warrant and injunctive relief, because the records belong to the government and that the 45th president doesn’t have a valid claim to executive privilege because the DOJ is “within the executive branch.”

In ruling in favor of Trump‘s request for a special master, Cannon rejected DOJ arguments that the records belong to the government and that because Trump is no longer president he cannot claim executive privilege.

Trump has maintained he did no wrong in how he handled classified materials. He has repeatedly stated that, as president, he had a standing declassification order on materials that left the Oval Office and were taken to Mar-a-Lago.

The former Republican president has accused the FBI of targeting him for political reasons as he mulls running for president again in 2024.

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