Judge sides with Trump lawyers, nixing some of special master's requirements

Joe Maiorana / AP

Federal Judge Aileen Cannon disagreed with the special master she appointed, ruling that former President Donald Trump's legal team does not have to comply with some of the demands he has made of Trump in setting up his review of documents seized by the FBI from the former president's Florida residence in August.

The special master, or independent arbiter, Judge Raymond Dearie, established a plan earlier this month that would have required Trump's lawyers to disclose any objections they have to the Justice Department's inventory of items seized from Mar-a-Lago in the search conducted by the FBI in August.

His order would have required the Trump attorneys to be specific about the accusations they have leveled at the FBI, requiring them to submit a list of items that "[Trump] asserts were not seized from the premises on August 8, 2022" — a possible reference to repeated claims by Trump that the FBI had planted evidence at his Florida residence when they searched it on Aug. 8.

Four days after the search, Trump complained on Truth Social that investigators prevented his lawyers from monitoring the search, "Made them wait outside in the heat, wouldn't let them get even close," and he added, "Planting information anyone?"

Dearie had also asked for a list of inventory items that Trump said had been seized, but the description of the contents or where they were found "is incorrect." And he wanted a list of documents the Trump team said had been taken by the FBI but were not listed in the detailed property inventory.

Trump's lawyers objected to these demands, arguing both that they went beyond the scope of Cannon's appointment of a special master, citing their own inability to access the documents, since they are now in the government's possession.

Cannon, who appointed Dearie as special master at Trump's own recommendation, ultimately sided with the former president's legal team over Dearie, partially sidestepping the ruling of the independent arbiter. "There shall be no separate requirement on Plaintiff at this stage, prior to the review of any of the Seized Materials, to lodge ex ante final objections to the accuracy of Defendant's Inventory, its descriptions, or its contents," she wrote in her ruling Thursday. "The Court's Appointment Order did not contemplate that obligation."

She also ordered the special master's review process to be extended from Nov. 30 to Dec. 16, in response to recent procedural delays.

The Justice Department has not yet responded to Cannon's order. It scored a victory last week when a federal appeals court granted its request to allow government investigators to regain access to the roughly 100 documents bearing classification markings that were seized by the FBI during its search at Mar-a-Lago.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed to put on hold a lower court's order — a ruling issued by Cannon — that kept the subset of sensitive records off-limits for the Justice Department to use for investigative purposes, pending the review of the materials by the special master.

The panel said it agreed with the Justice Department that Cannon's court had erred in blocking investigators' use of the classified records and then requiring them to submit the sensitive documents to the outside arbiter for review.

"For our part, we cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings," Judges Robin Rosenbaum, Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said. "Classified documents are marked to show they are classified, for instance, with their classification level."

So far, Trump has not indicated that he intends to appeal that ruling.

Robert Legare, Melissa Quinn and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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