US judge agrees to appoint ‘special master’ in Donald Trump search case

A federal judge on Monday (local time) agreed to appoint a special master to review records seized by the FBI during its unprecedented search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, a move that is likely to delay the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation.

In her ruling, US District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, said the special master will be tasked with reviewing documents the FBI seized that could be subject not just to attorney-client privilege, but also to executive privilege.

She ordered the Justice Department to put its criminal investigation on hold, but said she would permit US intelligence officials to continue conducting a classification review, as well as a national security damage assessment review.

“In addition to being deprived of potentially significant personal documents, which alone creates a real harm, plaintiff faces an unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” wrote Cannon, who was appointed by Trump in 2020 just months before he left office.

Cannon gave Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department until Friday to file a proposed list of special master candidates.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cannon’s ruling. Representatives for Trump also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, without evidence, has accused the Justice Department of launching a partisan witch-hunt against him, and his lawyers argued that the appointment of an independent third-party to review the materials would be an important check on the government.

Trump is under investigation for removing government records, some of which were marked as highly classified, from the White House after he departed in January 2021, and storing them in his home at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.