Federal judge poised to appoint ‘special master’ to review docs seized in Mar-a-Lago raid

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


A federal judge announced on Saturday an intent to appoint a “special master” to review documents seized in the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid requested by former President Trump and his legal team.

The news follows the Justice Department’s release of the heavily redacted search warrant affidavit used to justify the Aug. 8 morning raid on Trump’s Florida home.

U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee, cited the “exceptional circumstances presented” by the unprecedented raid as the reason behind the decision. She also ordered the DOJ to provide the court with details “specifying all property seized pursuant to the search warrant” under seal.

“Pursuant to Rule 53(b) (1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Court’s inherent authority, and without prejudice to the parties’ objections, the Court hereby provides notice of its preliminary intent to appoint a special master in this case,” Cannon wrote in a filing Saturday.

The federal government has until Tuesday to file a response to Trump’s request for a special master. A hearing on the matter is set for Sept. 1 at 1:00 p.m. in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Trump and his legal team filed a motion last week seeking an independent review of the seized records, saying the DOJ’s decision to search his private residence ahead of the 2022 general election “involved political calculations aimed at diminishing the leading voice in the Republican Party, President Trump.”

Meanwhile, The DOJ released a heavily redacted affidavit used to justify the FBI raid on Trump’s Florida residence on Friday, per the order of U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart – the judge who signed off on the same affidavit. The Justice Department disclosed on Friday that it was investigating Trump for removing White House records because it believed he illegally held documents including some that allegedly contained information on intelligence-gathering and clandestine human sources. 

In the pages of the affidavit, much of which was covered by black ink, an unidentified FBI agent said the agency reviewed and identified 184 documents “bearing classification markings” containing “national defense information” after Trump returned 15 boxes of government records sought by the U.S. National Archives in January.

The search was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed and kept documents when he left office in January 2021 and subsequently attempted to obstruct the probe. Trump maintains that he complied with National Archives requests and has described the court-approved search at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach as being politically motivated. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have pointed to the numerous redactions in the affidavit as further evidence of a politically motivated hit.

“So much for transparency,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) tweeted along with images of portions of the redacted affidavit showing line after line of blacked-out text.

In true Trump fashion, the former president took to social media with a tongue-in-cheek response.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), who has not shied away from criticizing Trump in the past, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday’s “State of the Union” broadcast that the DOJ should provide Americans with more information about the seized documents and explain why they deemed it necessary to take the extreme action of raiding the home of a former U.S. president.

“My biggest criticism, and I think the concern of most of the country, is, where’s the transparency, right?” Sununu said. “If you’re going to take unprecedented action and raid a former president’s house, well, you better have a strategy for unprecedented transparency. You’ve got to be able to show your cards when you’re taking actions like this.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) argued that the affidavit failed to show proof of any sort of national security threat that would justify the unprecedented raid.

“The former president’s home was raided in the most invasive manner in which the FBI could have gone about this,” Turner said in a Sunday appearance on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo. “The Department of Justice could have gone to court and tried to have the subpoena that they had enforced by the court. Instead, they chose to raid Mar-a-Lago.”

Turner noted that the affidavit cites National Archives personnel, as opposed to members of the intelligence community, as the source of information suggesting that the documents pose a national security threat.

“This is more like a bookkeeping issue than a national security threat, which means it doesn’t rise to the level of justifying raiding the former president’s home,” Turner said. 

He also pointed out that U.S. National Intelligence Director Avril Haines’ sent a letter to members of Congress stating that she was not given any heads-up that the raid would take place, something Turner found to be peculiar. 

“Supposedly, they’re looking for classified documents, but they’re not talking to anybody who deals with classified information, and that would seem to indicate this is very, very suspect as to why it would rise to the level of needing to raid,” Turner said. 

President Biden, like Haines, has asserted that the White House was not made aware of the Mar-a-Lago raid in advance.

Lawmakers and pundits across both sides of the aisle have suggested that the raid has raised Trump’s profile among supporters who have long viewed the 45th president as a political martyr at the hands of the Democratic party.

In addition to the sources cited, this article was also partially informed by reports in Reuters and The New York Post.