POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Trump re-ups request for ‘special master’ but glosses over some questions from the judge

Aug 27, 2022, 11:00 AM
A redacted version of the Mar-a-Lago search warrant affidavit has been released after a federal jud...
Former U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump responded Friday to a judge’s request that he elaborate on his request that the court appoint a “special master” to oversee the review of evidence recovered from the search of his Mar-a-Lago residence with a 12-page filing that touched briefly on the newly released affidavit the FBI used to obtain the warrant.

Trump was ordered to submit the filing after US District Judge Aileen Cannon, the Florida judge assigned to his case seeking a special master, identified several shortcomings in his initial Monday request for more oversight for the FBI’s review of the evidence seized.

In the new Friday night filing, Trump pointed to some additional legal discussion of case law that he said supported his request. One of those cases had to do with his former attorney Rudy Giuliani. Nowhere in the filing did Trump suggest that material dealing with attorney-client privilege was seized in the FBI’s search of his resort.

The new response appeared to fall short of the elaboration Cannon was seeking. Trump did not elaborate on what exactly he hoped a special master — a third-party attorney — would filter out, besides general allusions to “privileged and potentially privileged materials.”

He also did not include with the filing a motion for immediate action from the judge — like a request for a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction — despite the judge’s request that he put before her “the precise relief sought, including any request for injunctive relief pending resolution of the Motion.”

Trump claimed that the newly released redacted affidavit the FBI submitted in court to obtain the warrant for the search raised “more questions than answers.”

“The Redacted Affidavit underscores why this Motion should be granted, as it provides almost no information that would allow Movant to understand why the raid took place, or what was taken from his home,” Trump’s wrote on the filing.

Filing follows release of redacted affidavit

Trump’s Friday submission came hours after the Justice Department unsealed a redacted version of the affidavit it used to obtain the warrant, which laid out new details about the FBI’s investigation and the highly sensitive nature of classified material that had been previously retrieved from the Palm Beach, Florida, resort.

In her order in Trump’s challenge to the search, Cannon told the former President’s lawyers to elaborate on their arguments for why the court has the ability to step in at this time, explain what exactly Trump is asking for and to clarify whether the Justice Department has been served with Trump’s special master motion.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, was not alone in finding that the original Monday motion lacked certain legal elements one would expect with a request like the one the Trump was making.

Several legal experts questioned the seriousness of Trump’s effort in court after Monday’s initial filing.

For one, Trump waited two weeks after the August 8 Mar-a-Lago search was executed to formally ask a court to step in. And his Monday filing lacked the kind of motion — such as a preliminary injunction motion or a temporary restraining order request — that would prompt quick action from the court.

The discussion of Trump’s legal arguments for why the judge had the authority to grant his request was thin. Much of the Monday filing instead was filled with politically charged rhetoric. Among other things, the Monday complaint boasted about Trump’s 2024 polling numbers, rehashed his gripes with the FBI’s 2020 Trump-Russia probe, and repeated the full text of a “message” Trump supposedly sought to deliver through his lawyers to Attorney General Merrick Garland about “angry” mood the country was in after the raid.

What the department has said about how it is reviewing the Mar-a-Lago evidence

Trump’s new attempt to refine his bid for a special master came after the freshly released affidavit made public new details about how the Justice Department approached the search. The FBI told the court when seeking the warrant that it planned to send to Mar-a-Lago a “privilege review team” of agents along with the agents working on the investigation. The privilege review team would be charge of searching the room referred to as the “45 Office,” and would “conduct a review of the seized materials” from there “to identify and segregate documents or data containing potentially attorney-client privileged information.”

The affidavit laid out the procedures the privilege review team would use to filter out materials containing privileged information. If the privilege review team believed a document obtained could be privilege, they would either ask for a court to review whether it was privileged; work with the potential privilege holder on establishing whether it privileged, including, if necessary, by seeking a court review; or defer the court process while the materials were withheld from the investigators working on the case.

“If at any point the law-enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation subsequently identify any data or documents that they consider may be potentially attorney-client privileged, they will cease the review of such identified data or documents and refer the materials to the Privilege Review Team for further review by the Privilege Review Team,” the FBI said in its filing to US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who authorized the search.

In the affidavit, the FBI said that it had found 184 classified documents in its review of 15 boxes retrieved from Mar-a-Lago in January.

“Further, there is probable cause to believe that additional documents that contain classified [National Defense Information] or that are Presidential records subject to record retention requirements currently remain at the PREMISES,” the affidavit said. “There is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the PREMISES.”

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Trump re-ups request for ‘special master’ but glosses over some questions from the judge