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Judge suspends FBI investigation of Trump papers until they are reviewed by special master

The move puts the brakes on the probe into the former US president, who is being investigated for removing government records

Parte de los documentos confiscados a Donald Trump en su mansión de Mar-a-Lago, en Palm Beach (Florida)
Some of the documents seized from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.JOSE ROMERO (AFP)
Miguel Jiménez

A federal judge on Monday accepted Donald Trump’s request for a special master to be appointed to review the documents, photographs and other items seized by the FBI during its August 8 search of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The ruling from District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump to her position, means the Department of Justice (DOJ) must put its criminal investigation into the ex-president on hold until the records have been reviewed.

The move puts the brakes on the probe into Trump, who is being investigated for removing government records, some of which were marked as highly classified, from the White House after he departed in January 2021, and storing them in his home at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.

In the 24-page ruling, Cannon states: “A special master shall be appointed to review the seized property, manage assertions of privilege and make recommendations thereon, and evaluate claims for return of property.”

The document argues that a “temporary injunction on the government’s use of the seized materials for criminal investigative purposes pending resolution of the special master’s review process is warranted.” US intelligence officials, however, are allowed to continue conducting a classification review, as well as a national security damage assessment review.

The judge will determine the review process after receiving proposals from Trump’s lawyers and the DOJ, which have both been asked to provide a list of candidates for the role of special master.

Trump’s lawyers called on the federal court to temporarily block the FBI from reviewing the materials it seized on Aug. 8 from his Mar-a-Lago home until a “special master” could be appointed to oversee the review. This call was made on the grounds that some documents could compromise Trump’s right to attorney-client privilege. The legal team also told Cannon the special master was appropriate because some of the records could be subject to executive privilege – a legal doctrine that shields some White House communications.

The DOJ argued that it had already identified and separated 520 pages of documents that could affect this privilege, meaning no further review was necessary. But Cannon said more must be done to ensure the perception of fair process. “A commitment to the appearance of fairness is critical, now more than ever,” she wrote in the ruling.

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