Judge seeks clarity about Trump's move on records seized from Mar-a-Lago

Jon Elswick/AP Photo

The judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s effort to limit the Justice Department’s review of the records seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate wants more details from Trump’s legal team about what, precisely, he’s asking her to do.

In a brief order on Tuesday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon signaled some confusion about the motion Trump’s attorneys filed on Monday asking for an outsider to sift through materials the FBI seized from Trump’s home and resort in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this month pursuant to a search warrant.

Cannon, a Trump appointee who sits in Fort Pierce, Fla., asked Trump’s attorneys to clarify five aspects of their legal effort — filed in what Trump described as a “major” Fourth Amendment action but was primarily a request to appoint a so-called special master to screen records for privileged materials.

Cannon didn’t explicitly criticize the 27-page motion Trump’s lawyers filed on Monday, but her requests for clarification seemed to dovetail with criticism from some legal observers who called the submission convoluted, confusing and loaded with heaping servings of political rhetoric unrelated to the legal questions at issue. She wants answers to her queries by Friday, but did not set a hearing or further proceedings on the former president’s request.


Among the issues the judge asked Trump’s attorneys to clarify were such basic points as “the precise relief sought,” why the court has jurisdiction over the dispute, what legal standards apply and whether the former president is seeking an immediate injunction against the government while the legal dispute plays out.

The series of questions were Cannon’s first substantive step since Trump filed the action, underscoring the challenge Trump has faced in articulating a legal strategy to combat the criminal inquiry into his handling of presidential records housed at his Florida home since leaving office. Though Trump’s lawyers were notified in April that the FBI was seeking to review materials that had been kept at Mar-a-Lago and had significant concerns about classified information being held there, Trump opted against taking any legal steps until Monday, two weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant at his estate.

Trump did not explicitly seek any sort of emergency intervention by the court to halt the Justice Department’s ongoing review of the material — currently being conducted by a “filter team” intended to screen out potentially privileged information — a notable absence in a filing he publicly described as an urgent step. The former president’s motion did ask to “enjoin further review of seized materials by The Government until a Special Master is appointed,” but was not clear on whether Trump was seeking that step right away or only after a judge concluded a special master should be named.

Cannon also said she wanted to understand Trump’s view on the effect of ongoing proceedings before Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who is preparing to consider releasing a redacted version of the affidavit justifying the FBI search but whom Trump has publicly criticized.

An attorney for Trump and spokespeople for the former president did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Cannon’s order.