Judge Cannon Assigns Special Master, Refuses to Let DOJ Examine Classified Docs

The federal judge who ordered that a special master be assigned to examine documents retrieved by the FBI last month from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate has assigned Raymond Dearie, a Reagan-era judge that both Trump’s lawyers and the Department of Justice (DOJ) agree on.

After Cannon told both sides to nominate people to fill the role, Trump’s lawyers suggested two names, including Dearie. The DOJ also listed two nominees, but approved of Dearie’s nomination to look at the documents in order to determine whether their retrieval violated Trump’s so-called “executive privilege.”

Dearie will have to examine more than 11,000 documents that were removed from the Palm Beach, Florida, estate, including around 100 government documents that were marked as classified. Some of those documents are so highly classified that FBI agents had to get special clearances before being able to handle them.

Cannon also rejected a motion from the DOJ to have classified items be exempt from her previous ruling. Lawyers for the department argued that those documents belonged to the government, not Trump, and therefore should be exempt from having to undergo the arduous process of examination by Dearie.

The decision by Cannon — a Trump-appointed judge whose original ruling ordering the special master was panned by many legal experts — is likely to be appealed. The Justice Department warned last week that, unless Cannon changed her decision and allowed the agency to examine those classified documents as part of its investigation, it would ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn her ruling.

The DOJ has already filed an appeal against the need for a special master altogether, noting that Trump’s claims of executive privilege are improper.

“Supreme Court precedent makes clear that any possible assertion of privilege that [Trump] might attempt to make over the classified records would be overcome by the government’s ‘demonstrated, specific need’ for that evidence,” the DOJ said in its appeal last week.

Several legal minds denounced Cannon’s ruling on Thursday.

“Cannon’s order “prohibit[s] DOJ from using classified documents to further the criminal investigation,” former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance said on Twitter, adding that she believed the order was a “terrible ruling.”

“This latest decision is both a stupid and profoundly partisan piece of work,” tweeted Andrew Weissmann, a former DOJ lawyer. “Judge Dearie is jumping into this snake pit, and hopefully can right this ship quickly.”

Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, noted that the ruling gives Trump special treatment because of his status as a former president. “Cannon is openly trashing the principle that all are equal before the law,” he said. “Not in her court, they’re not!”