Thursday evening, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon officially appointed a special master to review the thousands of pages of materials seized by the FBI during its August raid of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.
Judge Cannon also rejected the Justice Department’s demand she permits federal investigators continue their own probe into the records marked classified, according to POLITICO. In her ruling, Cannon rejected the DOJ’s claims that records they are trying to review as part of an ongoing criminal investigation remain highly classified or contain extraordinarily sensitive defense information that could damage national security if released.
“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, a Trump appointee, wrote in her 10-page ruling denying the Justice Department’s request to essentially exclude about 100 documents marked classified from the special master process.
Judge Cannon selected Raymond Dearie a former federal judge in New York, to lead the independent investigation. Earlier this week, Trump’s legal team named Dearie as one of its proposed judges to oversee the case. In a separate filing, the Justice Department also named Dearie as one of its pre-approved candidates. (Related: DOJ Signals Support for Trump-selected Special Master Candidate)
Dearie is a former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York who also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He was also among the FISA judges who signed an order approving electronic surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump aide, as part of the FBI’s investigation into whether the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Dearie accepted the role in a signed filing Thursday night.
Judge Cannon pressed him to complete the review by Nov. 30th, over a month after the Oct. 17 deadline the Justice Department had most recently asked Cannon to set. Cannon also requested the special master “prioritize review of the approximately 100 documents marked as classified (and papers physically attached thereto).”
However, the Justice Department was able to secure two wins over the former president. In Judge Cannon’s ruling, she ordered Trump to shoulder the full cost of Dearie’s review, as well as that for any staff or associates he hires.
The judge also offered clarification on how the DOJ might continue its criminal investigation while the documents are reviewed by the special master, such as “questioning witnesses and obtaining other information about the movement and storage of seized materials, including documents marked as classified, without discussion of their contents.”
“The Government’s submissions, read collectively, do not firmly maintain that the described processes are inextricably intertwined, and instead rely heavily on hypothetical scenarios and generalized explanations that do not establish irreparable injury,” she wrote.
“There has been no actual suggestion by the Government of any identifiable emergency or imminent disclosure of classified information arising from Plaintiff’s allegedly unlawful retention of the seized property,” Cannon wrote. “Instead, and unfortunately, the unwarranted disclosures that float in the background have been leaks to the media after the underlying seizure.”
Now, should the judge (Drearie) be found to have violated any of the quoted sections, will he be disbarred or otherwise punished? I certainly would not hold my breath on that one.