Federal Judge Expresses “Preliminary Intent” To Appoint Special Master To Review Mar-a-Lago Documents

The federal judge overseeing President Donald Trump’s legal action against Joe Biden’s Department of Justice entered an order on Saturday saying she has “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master in the case as requested by Trump.

A special master is an independent legal officer appointed by a court in cases where the judge hearing a case needs technical assistance. President Trump has specifically requested that an independent person be appointed to conduct a review of the documents seized by the FBI earlier this month when executing the search warrant requested by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida said in her order that while she is inclined to appoint a special master, a final decision will not be made until after a hearing at which both sides can be heard.

She has scheduled a hearing for that purpose on Thursday afternoon, September 1, at the West Palm Beach federal courthouse. She has also directed the parties to file additional briefs and supporting documents for their arguments during the week in advance of the hearing.

The judge also ordered the DOJ attorneys to file, under seal, a “more detailed receipt” before Thursday’s hearing setting out the specific items and documents that were seized by FBI agents at Trump’s residence.

Judge Cannon was appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2020.

Trump’s legal team filed additional papers on Friday evening reiterating their request for the appointment of a special master. That came soon after a highly redacted version of the affidavit filed in support of Garland’s request for the search warrant was released to the public.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart had ordered the release of the affidavit with the redactions requested by the DOJ. He is the same magistrate who approved the search warrant issued August 5.

From the parts of the affidavit that were not redacted, it appears that the government claimed it had “probable cause to believe” that Trump was in possession of additional records that contained classified information.

The appointment of special masters is not unusual in cases involving documents that involve disputed claims of privilege. Courts often appoint experienced neutral attorneys or retired judges to review materials and make recommendations to the judge.

President Trump’s attorneys are arguing that at least some of the documents seized by the government are protected by executive privilege that attached at the time Trump was still in office.