A U.S. judge on Thursday (September 15) sided with former U.S. President Donald Trump in refusing to let the Justice Department immediately resume review of classified files seized by the FBI from Trump’s estate in Florida in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation.
Federal Judge Aileen Cannon also appointed Senior District Judge Raymond Dearie as a third party to review records seized by the FBI for materials that may be privileged and withheld from federal investigators.
The Justice Department also sought to block the independent arbitrator, Dearie, from verifying the approximately 100 classified documents included among the 11,000 records collected in the court-approved search on August 8.
“The court does not find it appropriate to accept the government’s conclusions on these important and contested issues without further review by a neutral third party in a timely and orderly manner,” Cannon wrote Thursday, September 15.
Cannon’s decision further complicates the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s alleged handling of classified records. The master’s special examination could prevent the prosecutor from viewing seized documents as he assesses the possibility of criminal charges against the former president who plans to run for president in 2024.
Cannon said Thursday she would ask Dearie to prioritize reviewing classified records first. She also asked him to complete his review of all seized documents by November 30.
Trump’s attorneys in Monday’s filing disputed the department’s assertion that the 100 or so documents at issue are in fact classified, and they reminded Cannon that a president typically has broad powers to declassify documents. They stopped short of suggesting that Trump had declassified the documents, a claim he made on social media but not in court filings.
About two weeks after the search, Trump’s attorneys requested the appointment of a special master to review the seized documents for material that might be covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege — a legal doctrine that can protect certain presidential records from disclosure.
The Justice Department is investigating Trump for keeping government records — some marked as highly classified, including “top secret” — at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach after he left office in January 2021.
The department is also investigating possible obstruction of the investigation after finding evidence that files 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 subpoena to appear before a grand jury. . The Justice Department said it would take the case to the appeals court after losing to Trump on Thursday.
Cannon was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020.