Court grants former president’s request to appoint a neutral ‘special master’ to review material for privileged content.
A judge in the United States has temporarily blocked the Justice Department from reviewing materials seized in the search of Donald Trump’s Florida home last month, ordering the appointment of a neutral observer to assess their content.
In a ruling on Monday, Judge Aileen Cannon granted the former president’s request for an impartial “special master” to vet the documents taken in the August 8 search of his Mar-a-Lago estate for material that could be “subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege”.
Executive privilege refers to presidents’ authority to keep secret certain types of internal communications.
Cannon, a Trump appointee, also said the Justice Department could not review or use the seized materials “for investigative purposes pending completion of the special master’s review or further Court order”.
The judge’s order is likely to delay the criminal investigation into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents.
The Justice Department had pushed back against Trump’s demand for a “special master”, saying that it had already gone through the materials and identified a “limited” number of potentially privileged documents.
In a previous court filing released last week, US prosecutors said the “investigative team has been and will be continually mindful of the potential for attorney-client privilege issues and the filter protocols contained in the search warrant”.
Despite halting the Justice Department’s use of the documents in its investigation for now, Cannon on Monday said the intelligence community’s review of the materials for classified documents and potential national security risk can proceed.
“This Order shall not impede the classification review and/or intelligence assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (‘ODNI’),” she wrote.
A court document made public last week revealed that the FBI recovered 18 records marked as “top secret” during the search. Agents also seized dozens of folders with “classified” banners, some of which were empty.
Trump and his allies have dismissed the investigation, saying without evidence that it is politically motivated.
At a rally on Saturday, Trump called the search of his home an “egregious abuse of the law” and warned that it will produce “a backlash the likes of which nobody has ever seen”.
President Joe Biden has denied having prior knowledge of the search and insisted that the White House does not interfere in Justice Department-led investigations.
Trump claims that he declassified the documents before leaving office in early 2021.