With Trump’s term ending in January 2021, it’s the latest legal twist in the Justice Department’s historic criminal investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of documents. The FBI executed a search warrant at the former president’s Florida home and resort last month, seizing 11,000 documents. 100 classified government records.
U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon earlier this week granted a request by Trump’s special master — a third-party prosecutor outside the government — and ordered the Justice Department’s criminal investigators to stop using materials seized as part of their ongoing investigation. The Special Master concludes their review.
It will be up to Canon to sort out the differences.
The judicial special master must move relatively quickly, completing his review in five weeks by Oct. 17. Trump proposed 90 days.
The Justice Department argued that no documents with special master classification markings should be touched, and that the review should not involve any administrative privileges. Trump’s lawyers, meanwhile, want a special master to review “all seized material,” including classified records.
Whoever ends up being appointed to fill that role will immediately be thrust into the center of one of the most consequential criminal investigations in modern American history.
Judicial nominees: Griffith and Jones
The Justice Department nominated two retired federal judges — Thomas Griffith and Barbara Jones — to serve as special masters.
Griffith, a Bush appointee, served on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals from 2005 to 2020. In one of his final major rulings before retiring, he wrote the majority opinion rejecting an attempt by House Democrats to subpoena former Trump White House adviser Dan McCann. (That decision was later overturned.)
Griffith joined other prominent conservative lawyers and officials in writing a statement refuting Trump’s lies about massive fraud in the 2020 election. And he publicly endorsed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Katanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court.
Jones, a Bill Clinton appointee to the federal bench, is a former federal prosecutor and retired judge from the Southern District of New York from 1995 to 2012.
He served as a special master to examine items seized during an FBI raid of Rudy Giuliani’s home and office in April 2021. He was also a special master in the Michael Cohen case to make sure investigators didn’t wipe any documents. Attorney-client privilege. While both Giuliani and Cohen were Trump’s lawyers, they were investigated by the Justice Department.
Trump nominees: Hugh Jr. and Deary
Trump’s legal team hired attorney Paul Hough Jr. and Judge Raymond Deary as special masters.
Hough, who owns his own law firm, was a partner at the Jones Day law firm that represented the Trump campaign in 2016, and a contributor to the conservative legal organization the Federalist Society.
He previously served as Florida’s deputy attorney general and general counsel to former Florida Gov. Charlie Christine — a Republican at the time and now the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida. Chris Kiss, Trump’s current attorney, also worked for Crist and overlapped with Huck. They worked together in the Florida Attorney General’s office.
After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in 2020, Hugh’s wife, Barbara Lagoa, was on Trump’s short list of Supreme Court nominees.
Deary has served as a federal judge in New York since 1986, nominated by former President Ronald Reagan. He retired in 2011 and is now a senior judge in the circuit.
Thierry served on the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, for seven years. He was one of the judges who approved a request by the FBI and DOJ to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, as part of a federal investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The details are with the judge
Cannon, the Trump-appointed presiding judge in the case, said he would “quickly” determine the “exact details and dynamics” of the special primary process after both sides submit their proposals. It is unclear whether he will hold a hearing on the matter or issue his decision in writing.
The two sides have disagreed on much throughout the case, and not surprisingly, their proposals submitted Friday reveal differing visions of how the special master should conduct his review.
For example, the two sides disagree on who should pay the special master. Trump’s lawyers have proposed that the costs of the special master be “split equally” between him and the US government. The Justice Department told the judge they think Trump should pay for the whole thing because he’s “requesting a special master.”
Cannon’s request to continue the separate appeal and trial
The Justice Department also says it should continue to allow access to classified documents, arguing that an intelligence review cannot be easily separated from a criminal investigation because the intelligence community reviews material for national security reasons. Top federal lawyers have said the intelligence review has been temporarily halted because of Cannon’s ruling that it undermined national security.
The unprecedented search came after a different federal judge authorized the warrant, finding “probable cause” for several crimes, including violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. FBI agents recovered more than 100 classified documents during the search, including 18 marked “Top Secret,” the highest classification.
The investigation revolves around the mishandling of classified government documents. The U.S. government has recovered at least 325 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago this year, through Trump’s voluntary handover of documents in January, a grand jury subpoena in June and an FBI search last month.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
This story has been updated with additional details.
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