On Tuesday, a federal appeals court will hear arguments on whether to halt an independent arbiter’s assessment of papers seized during an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Florida property.
The Justice Department has urged the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to halt the review process, claiming that the appointment of a “special master” has unduly slowed its probe into the existence of sensitive papers at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s lawyers want the special master’s work to continue. Both parties will argue before the appeals court on Tuesday.
It was unclear when the court would rule, but a victory for the Justice Department may expedite the probe by granting prosecutors access to materials they claim are necessary for their work.
The special master, Raymond Dearie, a senior Brooklyn judge, was appointed in September at the request of the Trump team. He was entrusted with performing an impartial inspection of the nearly 13,000 documents taken in the Aug. 8 search and removing any that may be protected by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege from the criminal inquiry.
During the course of Dearie’s work, the Florida judge who appointed him, Aileen Cannon, barred federal prosecutors from utilizing the seized information as part of their probe. The Justice Department’s access to the roughly 100 documents with classification markings was later restored by a three-judge panel of the appeals court, but prosecutors say they still want unrestricted access to the much larger trove of unclassified records and have asked the court to end the process entirely.
Though the inquiry is focused on suspected mishandling of classified materials, the Justice Department says the unclassified papers found from Mar-a-Lago are also pertinent to the investigation. Because personal records were mixed up with sensitive papers, prosecutors believe they might give evidence of ownership or possession.
The Justice Department has stated in court papers that the only reason it has been able to utilize the unclassified materials so far has been to engage in a “prolonged argument” with the Trump team concerning their categorization.
The special master process has been running concurrently with a criminal inquiry concerning the retention of the records and alleged obstruction.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed experienced prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel last week to supervise the Mar-a-Lago inquiry as well as crucial portions of a separate investigation investigating efforts to alter the results of the 2020 presidential election.