Justice Department files notice to appeal special master decision in Trump documents case

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The Justice Department on Thursday filed a notice that it will appeal a judge’s recent controversial decision to appoint a special master to review documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump had requested to have an independent arbiter oversee the review of evidence recovered by the FBI during its search of his Palm Beach, Fla., residence last month, to determine if any of the seized materials might be protected under attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, which shields internal executive branch deliberations.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, of Florida’s Southern District, ruled in favor of the former president in an order earlier this week. She also temporarily blocked the Justice Department from using the records for investigative purposes. Cannon, a Trump appointee, had set a Friday deadline for both sides to submit a list of proposed candidates for the special master.

In a motion filed in the Southern District of Florida on Thursday afternoon, the Justice Department asked that, pending its appeal of the special master decision, the judge grant a partial stay of her earlier ruling with regard to classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago, writing that “those aspects of the Order will cause the most immediate and serious harms to the government and the public.”

An aerial view of former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort shows a complex and tower surrounding a pool.
An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort after Trump said that FBI agents searched it, in Palm Beach, Fla., on August 15. (Marco Bello/Reuters/File Photo)

The 21-page motion makes the case that the Justice Department should be allowed to continue its review of classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, which it describes as “a discrete set of just over 100 documents,” arguing that Trump “does not and could not assert that he owns or has any possessory interest in classified records; that he has any right to have those government records returned to him; or that he can advance any plausible claims of attorney-client privilege as to such records that would bar the government from reviewing or using them.”

“Among other things,” the motion states, “the classified records are the very subject of the government’s ongoing investigation.”

Justice Department attorneys had previously urged Cannon to deny Trump’s request, arguing that he did not have the legal standing to demand independent review of government documents. The government also argued that the request would impede its ongoing criminal investigation and pose a risk to national security interests.

Federal prosecutors had outlined their position on the matter in a lengthy court filing submitted late Tuesday night. In it, they noted that if Cannon did agree to appoint a special master — which she had said she was inclined to do — such a person would need to have the security clearance necessary to view materials marked Top Secret and “sensitive compartmented information,” or SCI.