Special master candidates submitted by Trump and Justice Dept. in Trump documents case

10 September 2022

Washington — The Justice Department and Trump legal team submitted their lists of possible special master candidates to review the documents seized by the FBI at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in August.

In a joint filing late Friday, prosecutors and Trump’s team each submitted two candidates for the role.

The government recommended two retired federal judges: Barbara Jones, who served in federal district court in Manhattan, and Thomas Griffith, who served on the the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

The former president’s legal team suggested Rayond Dearie, former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and Paul Huck, Jr., former Deputy Attorney General for the State of Florida.

The parties said they would respond to the other’s pair of candidates by Monday. It is unclear if there are any objections by either side to the other’s proposed candidates.

Jones, now a partner at a New York law firm, has served as special master in two other Trump-focused investigations: looking for attorney-client privileged information in material seized in connection with the prosecution of the former president’s one-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, and in an investigation targeting Rudy Giuliani. 

Griffith, currently a lecturer at Harvard Law school, was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by then-President George W. Bush in 2005. Before that, he served as the nonpartisan Senate Legal Counsel, where he advised the Senate on issues like the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton. 

Dearie was appointed to the federal bench in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York by Ronald Reagan in 1986 after serving as chief of the Appeals Division in the Office of the United States Attorney. He currently serves as a senior judge in that court. Dearie also served in the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes the surveillance of individuals inside the United States. In that capacity, he signed off on the FISA warrant of then-Trump aide Carter Page in 2017.

Huck, currently the sole partner of a law firm that bears his surname, served as chief counsel for Florida Republican Governor Charlie Christ — who is now running again for the same seat on the Democratic ticket — and was second in charge at the state Attorney General’s office. His wife, federal Judge Barbara Lagoa, was appointed by Trump to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and was considered a favorite of the former president to serve on the Supreme Court. 

Judge Aileen Cannon ruled Monday that she would name a special master, an independent third party, to undertake the review and ordered the two parties to come up with a list of potential candidates acceptable to both of them.

Cannon also ordered the federal investigators probing whether Trump mishandled classified documents to stop using the seized documents in their criminal probe, pending the review by a special master.

On Thursday, the Justice Department filed notice of its intent to appeal Cannon’s ruling on the special master and also asked her to lift part of the ruling so that investigators could continue reviewing the 103 most sensitive documents seized from Mar-a-Lago that bear classified markings.

Trump and his attorneys have until Monday morning to respond to the Justice Department’s request to resume investigating the documents.  

Earlier this week, Cannon sided with Trump’s legal team, finding that the independent review was necessary. She tasked a special master with analyzing “potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege.” The ruling did allow the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to continue its examination of potential national security risks posed by the seized records at the same time criminal investigators were barred from accessing them. 

But the intelligence community decided to pause its analysis of the documents, citing the “uncertainty” caused by Cannon’s Monday order. According to Thursday’s filing by the Justice Department, the 103 documents with classified markings were already separated from the remaining thousands of seized records.   

The Justice Department argued in its notice of appeal that halting its investigation will pose a grave harm to national security, and the intelligence review of the records can’t be executed without the involvement of criminal investigators. The investigation and the public at large, prosecutors wrote, could be “irreparably injured” by the pause. 

Trump has alleged in his lawsuit that the Justice Department search warrant that prompted the Aug. 8 Mar-a-Lago search was “overbroad” and that investigators took “presumptively privileged” information. Cannon’s opinion Monday indicated she thought this claim warranted further review. 

Investigators have been examining allegations that documents with classified markings were mishandled when they were transferred from Trump’s White House to his Mar-a-Lago residence after the presidential transition in 2021. In three separate instances earlier this year that culminated in the August 8 search, the National Archives and the FBI recovered troves of documents from the Florida resort. They are also probing whether Trump or his team obstructed the investigation by not properly responding to a grand jury subpoena.

As part of Cannon’s ruling Monday, she also ordered prosecutors and Trump’s team to lay out areas of agreement and disagreement over the proposed special master’s role and the process by which the review should be conducted so as to eliminate any conflicts before the review begins. 

The Justice Department and Trump’s attorneys disagreed on a few fronts, including the deadline for the review’s completion, the special master’s ability to view documents with classified markings, their mandate regarding executive privilege, and the financial terms for the arrangement. 

The former president suggested that the special master should have 90 days to complete the job, have access to all of the seized records, including those containing classified information, and be permitted to evaluate claims of executive privilege. Trump’s team also said that the parties should split the cost of the special master’s review, which could include fees for support staff. 

But prosecutors set a suggested deadline of October 17 for the process, argued the special master should have no access to documents with classified markings, and contended that questions of executive privilege should be referred to the National Archives. The Department of Justice also wrote that Trump should “bear the additional expense of the Special Master’s work.” 

The parties also disagreed on some aspects of workflow specifics that the judge is expected to resolve. 

Prosecutors wrote that they intend to provide Trump’s attorneys with copies of all unclassified materials and intend to return to the former president any personal items seized during the Aug. 8 search “that were not commingled with records bearing classification markings,” although they note that “such property was within the scope of what the search warrant authorized.”

Jones, Griffith, and Huck did not immediately respond to CBS News’ request for comment. Dearie was unable to be reached. 

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Author: Robert Legare

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