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Judge names special master to review documents seized in Trump search

Judge names special master in Trump case
Judge names special master to review documents seized at Mar-a-Lago 05:30

Washington — A federal judge on Thursday appointed U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie to serve as an independent arbiter, or special master, tasked with reviewing the documents seized by the FBI during its search at former President Donald Trump's home in South Florida.

Trump proposed Dearie for the role last Friday, and Justice Department lawyers told the court Monday evening that they did not oppose his appointment. 

In his role as special master, Dearie will be responsible for reviewing the records taken by the FBI during its Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago for personal items and documents, as well as material that may be potentially subject to claims of attorney client or executive privileges.

In an eight-page order appointing Dearie as special master, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon set a deadline of Nov. 30 for Dearie to complete his review of the seized materials and said Trump is responsible for "100% of the professional fees and expenses of the special master and any professionals, support staff, and expert consultants engaged" in his request.

She also laid out the specific duties of the special master, including that he conduct a privilege review of the records taken in the search, and identify personal items or documents, and presidential records, in the seized materials. Cannon instructed Dearie and the parties to "prioritize, as a matter of timing, the documents marked as classified."

Dearie, 78, was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 and served as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York from 2007 to 2011. He assumed senior status, a form of semi-retirement that allows judges to maintain a reduced caseload, in 2011.

Trump FBI Legal
An aerial view of President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is seen near dusk on Aug. 10, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. newly unsealed FBI document about the investigation at Mar-a-Lago not only offers new details about the probe but also reveals clues about the arguments his legal team intends to make.  Steve Helber / AP

After stepping back from active service, Dearie was appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a seven-year term that began in 2012. The court, which meets in secret, considers warrant applications from the U.S. government for approval of electronic surveillance and other investigative actions.

Dearie was selected as special master from a group of four contenders put forth by the Justice Department and Trump's legal team. The former president's attorneys on Monday said they objected to both candidates proposed by federal prosecutors, retired federal judges Barbara Jones and Thomas Griffith. The Justice Department opposed one of Trump's two picks, Paul Huck, former general counsel to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, citing his lack of judicial experience presiding over federal cases, including those with national security and privilege concerns.

With Dearie as the candidate suggested by Trump who was suitable to federal prosecutors, Justice Department law told Cannon in their Monday filing that he is available to serve as the third-party reviewer and could "perform the work expeditiously."

Cannon last week authorized the appointment of a special master, granting a request from Trump to name a third party to sift through the materials seized by the FBI for anything that may be potentially privileged. She also ordered federal investigators probing Trump's handling of sensitive government records to stop using any of the documents in their criminal investigation, pending the special master's review.

The Justice Department notified the federal court in South Florida last week of its intent to appeal Cannon's decision.

The order for the government to temporarily stop reviewing and using the seized materials has sparked a separate dispute between the Justice Department and Trump's lawyers. Federal prosecutors asked Cannon last week to partially lift her order to allow investigators to continue reviewing a batch of roughly 100 records marked "confidential," "secret" or "top secret," arguing the government and broader public will be harmed if the materials cannot be reviewed and used in their criminal probe.

But Trump's attorneys oppose the Justice Department's request and urged Cannon in a filing Monday to continue barring the FBI from using sensitive documents in its continuing investigation. They claimed some of the records with classification markings may not be classified anymore.

Cannon rejected the Justice Department's request to regain access to the approximately100 documents with classification markings.

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