Speed Reads

'giant backfire'

Judge sides with Trump over special master she appointed at his request in Mar-a-Lago records case

U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday sided with former President Donald Trump, who appointed her to the bench in 2020, over the special master she selected to oversee Trump's privilege claims on some 11,000 documents the FBI took from his Mar-a-Lago club in August.

Last week, the special master, Judge Raymond Dearie, ordered Trump's team to affirm or challenge the FBI's inventory of items taken from Mar-a-Lago — effectively forcing them to admit the FBI took classified documents from Trump's residence or swear in court that, as Trump has claimed, the FBI planted evidence. In effect, Dearie was telling Trump's lawyer "to put up or shut up," Georgetown University law professor Julie O'Sullivan told The New York Times. Now they have to do neither. 

Cannon's six-page order also gives Trump's team until sometime in November to sort through what it says are 200,000 pages of documents, rejecting Dearie's Oct. 21 deadline for flagging records purportedly subject to attorney-client or executive privilege. Dearie, who had planned to finish arbitrating any privilege disagreements before Thanksgiving, now has until Dec. 16, pushing Cannon's review of Dearie's arbitration into 2023

Trump had asked Cannon to appoint a special master nominated Dearie for the role, and "maybe from Trump's point of view, creating delay and chaos is always a plus, but this has the feel of a giant backfire," New York University legal scholar Peter Shane told the Times. First, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled Cannon and removed the 100 or so classified documents from Dearie's review, handing them back to the Justice Department for its criminal investigation.

Since Dearie's review "is no longer delaying or diverting the criminal inquiry, it is not clear what benefits remain for Mr. Trump," Charlie Savage writes at the Times. Also, "a special master will cost a lot of money," and Cannon said Trump has to foot the entire bill, including "the full cost of a vendor who will scan all the materials, as well as support staff for Judge Dearie, like an assistant who bills $500 an hour." Cannon's latest order prevents the puncturing of Trump's legal defenses, Savage adds, but it still appears "the upsides to obtaining a special master are eroding and the disadvantages swelling."