U.S. judge backs Trump in classified records probe, refuses Justice Department request

U.S. judge backs Trump in classified records probe, refuses Justice Department request thumbnail

A U.S. judge on Thursday refused to let the Justice Department immediately resume reviewing classified records seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida estate in an ongoing criminal investigation, siding with the former president.

Federal Judge Aileen Cannon also granted the newly named special master, Raymond Dearie, access to the entire tranche of documents seized from the property even though the department had said the arbiter shouldn’t be permitted to inspect the batch of classified records.

The Justice Department had promised to take the case to an appeals court if Cannon ruled against their request. They had also sought to block the independent arbiter, Dearie, from vetting the roughly 100 classified documents included among the 11,000 records gathered in the court-approved Aug. 8 search, including some marked “top secret.”

“The court does not find it appropriate to accept the government’s conclusions on these important and disputed issues without further review by a neutral third party in an expedited and orderly fashion,” Cannon wrote Thursday.

A Justice Department spokesperson and Trump’s attorneys did not immediately return requests for comment.

Justice Department ordered to pause Trump probe

The selection of Dearie, a former federal prosecutor who for years served as the chief judge of the federal court based in Brooklyn, N.Y., came after both the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers made clear that they would be satisfied with his appointment as a so-called special master.

WATCH | Judge grants Trump’s request for expert to review seized documents:

Judge grants Trump’s request for expert to review seized documents

A federal judge granted a request from former U.S. president Donald Trump for a special master to review documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home.

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In that role, Dearie will be responsible for reviewing the documents taken during the search of Mar-a-Lago and segregating out any that may be covered by claims of privilege. It is not clear how long the work will take but the special master process has already delayed the investigation, with Cannon directing the Justice Department to temporarily pause core aspects of its probe.

The Justice Department argued Dearie’s appointment was unnecessary, saying it had already done its own review and Trump had no right to raise executive privilege claims that ordinarily permit the president to withhold certain information from the public and Congress.

The Justice Department is investigating the hoarding of top-secret materials and other classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., after he left office in January 2021. 

The department also is looking into possible obstruction of the probe after it found evidence that records may have been removed or concealed from the FBI when it sent agents to Mar-a-Lago in June to try to recover all classified documents through a grand jury subpoena.

This image contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on Aug. 30, and partially obscured by the source, shows a photo of documents seized during the Aug. 8 search by the FBI of Trump’s Florida estate. (Department of Justice via The Associated Press)

Ongoing investigations

Cannon, a Trump appointee, disagreed and directed both sides to name potential candidates for the role. She also ordered the Justice Department to halt its review of the documents for investigative purposes until “further Court order” or until the special master completes their review.

The Trump team recommended either Dearie or a Florida lawyer for the job. The Justice Department said that, in addition to the two retired judges whose names it submitted, it would also be satisfied with a Dearie appointment.

Donald Trump, then-U.S. president, speaks during a Medal of Honor Ceremony in the East Room of the White House in 2019. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Dearie served as the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York from 1982 to 1986, at which point he was appointed to the federal bench by then-president Ronald Reagan. He has also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes Justice Department wiretap applications in investigations involving suspected agents of a foreign power. 

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The documents inquiry is one of several federal and state investigations that Trump is facing as he considers another run for the presidency in 2024.

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