Saved by the Bell: Trump Granted Special Master in Mar-a-Lago Investigation

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Former President Donald Trump officially allowed to proceed with appointing special master in the ongoing criminal investigation concerning documents from his Mar-a-Lago estate. This ruling has halted the inquiry, allowing Trump and his team time to regroup, while enraging the Department of Justice.

A Bit of Background:

When whisperings of the raid at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate began to work their way through the media, many were shocked and confused by how this investigation seemingly arose out of thin air. However, this was not the case, despite how much Trump’s team worked to bolster such an idea.

Per U.S News, the probe began back in January 2021 when Trump did not adhere to the Presidential Records Act moving out of the White House as he neglected to turn over certain documents to the National Archives and Records Association (NARA). The requests from the NARA for such filings continued throughout 2021 until they received 15 boxes filled with a variety of documents, ranging from magazines to ‘top secret’ records. Due to both the lack of confidentiality and transparency, the NARA called on the FBI to open a criminal investigation into the situation.

Photo from the Department of Justice

Following numerous notifications, ignored subpoenas and assurances by Trump and his PAC (Political Action Committee) that there is nothing to investigate, the Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney, along with a few FBI agents, went to his Palm Beach estate to collect the documents. They were offered a sealed folder containing, once again, records with a range of classifications, but were prohibited to search through any additional files or areas of the home.

After a bit more back and forth, on August 8 the DOJ filed a search and seizure warrant of Mar-a-Lago due to “probable cause” of remaining confidential documents. What they found was perhaps even more than they bargained for with dozens of top-secret records found in varying locations, some seemingly hidden and others suggesting even additional documents were being concealed. While the DOJ viewed this as a confirmation of Trump’s lack of cooperation and covert approach, his team argued an abuse of power aimed to mar his reputation before the next election. 

The Ruling:

In response to the raid and growing speculation surrounding his legitimacy, Trump and his team requested a special master, explained by Perry Stein of The Washington Post as a subjective, third-party expert to sort through the documents and “restore trust” to the investigation. The special master is regarded more as an assistant to the judge than being on a certain side of the matter and must be agreed upon by both parties. Special masters are typically appointed in cases where privilege plays a substantial role, from attorney-client, doctor-patient and spousal matters. In this case, it is mostly to cover ‘executive privileges’ stemming from his time as president. 

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The DOJ and other government lawyers were a bit skeptic to his team’s concern with executive privilege, as they are also apart of the Executive Branch and thus privy to much of the same information. However in an unusual ruling by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, she deemed it would be for the special master to sort through and arrange the documents. As of September 8, the DOJ immediately submitted an appeal to the ruling claiming the documents are property of the government and not ‘personal records’.

What This Means: 

Rebecca Beitsch of The Hill discusses how the DOJ and legal experts alike have deemed this unprecedented ruling groundbreaking and a little bit concerning. Critics assert it is as if Judge Cannon completely ignored the law, or bent it to fit her decision. Either way, it has totally halted the investigation and regardless of the motive, is obstructing a thorough and timely inspection of the documents. Hon. Cannon argued that the special master may in fact deem all of the documents property of the government and the ruling could be of no help to Trump and his team.

The jury is still out on what will come of the ruling and the remainder of the investigation following the DOJ’s appeal, but no matter what, history has been made.

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