Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and the Justice Department are facing off in a Thursday hearing over whether a federal judge should appoint a “special master” to review documents seized from Trump’s home by the FBI.
The 1 p.m. ET hearing in a federal courtroom in Florida is the latest chapter in the battle over a closely-watched Justice Department investigation into whether Trump illegally possessed classified national security materials at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The FBI raided the property early last month in an unprecedented move against a former president. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he personally approved the raid and does not take the action “lightly.”
Thursday, attorneys for each side will debate a request from Trump’s team that Judge Aileen M. Cannon appoint a “special master” to independently review documents the FBI took which may be subject to executive privilege.
Trump’s team argues that a special master is necessary because a “Privilege Review Team” within the DOJ should not be the final word in checking the FBI’s work in such a high-profile case.
“[T]he Government twists the framework of responding to a motion for a Special Master into an all-encompassing challenge to any judicial consideration, presently or in the future, of any aspect of its unprecedented behavior in this investigation,” Trump’s lawyers said in a Wednesday filing.
They also said the review team’s scope was too limited – to documents in Trump’s “45 Office” – and that all documents seized from Mar-a-Lago should be reviewed for privilege.
In a Tuesday filing, the DOJ said Trump’s request lacked merit for several reasons. Among those, the DOJ said, were that Trump had no standing because the records belong to the government and not to him; that the Justice Department has already reviewed the documents; that Trump does not have a valid executive privilege claim because the Justice Department is “within the Executive Branch;” and that the appointment of a special master could impede the investigation.
Cannon in an order Saturday announced her “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master. But she allowed for both sides to submit briefs making their cases this week, and set Thursday’s hearing for debate on the matter.
The judge could rule from the bench Thursday, or she could take the arguments under advisement and rule at a later time.
It’s unlikely that a special master would begin sorting through the documents immediately if Cannon does decide to appoint one. In briefs this week, lawyers for the Justice Department and Trump’s team discussed submitting a joint list of proposed candidates for a special master potentially next week. They also said such a person should “possess a Top Secret/SCI security clearance.”
The government initiated the raid on Trump’s estate earlier this month in response to what it believed to be a violation of federal laws: 18 USC 793 — gathering, transmitting or losing defense information; 18 USC 2071 — concealment, removal or mutilation; and 18 USC 1519 — destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson, David Spunt, Brooke Singman, Kelly Laco and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.