The decision, from Trump-appointed District Judge Aileen Cannon, is a significant victory for the former President.
“As a function of Plaintiff’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own,” Cannon wrote. “A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”
Cannon ordered that a third-party attorney, from outside the government, be brought in to review the materials that were taken from Trump’s home and resort in Florida. It also halts the Justice Department from continuing its review of the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago “pending completion of the special master’s review or further Court order.”
Both sides have until Friday to nominate a special master candidate and their specific duties.
Trump’s lawyers argued that a special master was needed because they don’t trust the Justice Department to fairly identify privileged materials that would need to be excluded from the ongoing criminal probe.
Federal prosecutors will likely appeal this decision.
The Justice Department has said that its own “filter team” already finished its review of the Mar-a-Lago documents — and found a small set of attorney-client privileged records.
The judge said the special master will be tasked with reviewing “seized property for personal items and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney-client and/or executive privilege.”
The classification review and intelligence assessments being conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, however, will be allowed to continue.
FBI obtained Trump medical and tax information in search, judge says
The Justice Department also obtained “correspondent related to taxes,” and medical documents during the search, according to the privilege team report that remains sealed but Cannon described Monday.
Cannon noted that Justice Department lawyers had acknowledged it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value,” as well as 500 pages of material potentially subject to attorney-client privilege.
She wrote that Trump’s “individual interest in and need for the seized property” was one reason to rule in favor of Trump’s requests for a special master.
Cannon also said that the privilege review team’s report outlined “at least two instances in which members of the Investigative Team were exposed to material that was then delivered to the Privilege Review Team.”
“Those instances alone, even if entirely inadvertent, yield questions about the adequacy of the filter,” she wrote.
Friday deadline for Trump, DOJ to propose special master candidate
Cannon set a Friday deadline for Trump’s lawyers and Justice Department prosecutors to negotiate the special master’s “duties and limitations” and to submit a list of potential candidates to serve in the role.
She also wants both sides to propose a schedule for the special master’s review and to spell out how the person will be compensated for their work.
“The exact details and mechanics of this review process will be decided expeditiously following receipt of the parties’ proposals,” Cannon wrote.
If the two sides don’t agree on the parameters for the soon-to-be appointed special master, they should explain their differences in a court filing.
This story is breaking and will be updated.