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Feds signal support for special master candidate proposed by Trump

A federal judge wants a neutral third party to weed potentially privileged documents out of thousands of records seized by the FBI during the Mar-a-Lago raid.

(CN) — The Department of Justice said it will support one of the special master candidates proposed by former President Donald Trump in the probe of his document retention that inspired an FBI raid last month.

In a court filing on Monday night, the government told U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that it would not be opposed to the former president’s special master candidate Raymond Dearie, a former chief federal judge for the Eastern District of New York who is semi-retired with senior status at the Brooklyn federal court.

“Previous federal judicial experience and engagement in relevant areas of law are important qualifications for this position,” the government said, noting that Dearie has presided over federal criminal and civil cases, including cases involving national security and privilege concerns.

If Judge Cannon agrees with the government and Trump’s proposed candidate, Dearie will serve as a neutral third party tasked with reviewing the thousands of documents seized during the FBI’s Aug. 8 raid on Trump’s estate to make sure personal items and any records protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege are returned.

Judge Cannon, a Trump appointee, granted the former president’s motion for judicial oversight last Monday, giving the government and Trump’s legal team until the end of the week to file a list of people with high-level security clearance who could do the job.

The government said Trump’s other candidate, Paul Huck Jr., a former deputy attorney general for Florida who currently runs a private practice there, does not “appear to have similar experience.”

Cannon’s order allows the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to keep using all of the more than 11,000 seized documents for its classification review and national security risk assessment but otherwise blocks the Department of Justice and FBI from using them in its criminal investigation. The department quickly informed the 11th Circuit of its plans to appeal that judgment while also filing a 21-page motion with the Trump-appointed Cannon for a partial stay of her order, requesting to use the roughly 100 documents identified as classified by the government in its criminal investigation while the appeal plays out in court.

Trump's legal team meanwhile said in a supplemental filing on Monday that they oppose the government's two special master candidates: former federal judges Thomas Griffith and Barbara Jones.

Griffith served on the D.C. Circuit from 2005 to 2020, and Jones was a special master in cases involving former Trump attorneys Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani

The former president’s attorneys stopped short of providing any reasoning behind their opposition and asked that, if ordered to provide further explanation, that the filing not be made public.

“It is more respectful to the candidates from either party” that the reasons stay secret, according to the government, because the pleading "is likely to be widely circulated."

"Such information could then be provided in camera or pursuant to whatever procedure the Court deems most efficient and appropriate," Trump’s counsel wrote.

In earlier court filings, Trump's lawyers said that they want the special master to be given three months to review the documents and to split the associated costs with the government. But the government said it wants the special master to finish the review by Oct. 17 and for Trump to foot the bill since he brought the lawsuit.

The government said in a footnote in Monday’s filing that its three candidates, all retired federal judges, all have staff on hand who can help ensure the special master review is completed under its proposed timeline.

Trump is under investigation for removing government records from the White House at the end of his single term as president on Jan. 20, 2021, and storing them at his 12-acre estate in West Palm Beach. 

The FBI raided the Mar-a-Lago compound on Aug. 8 and seized 20 boxes of documents, including 11 sets of classified documents, according to records unsealed by the court last month. Among the more than 11,000 seized files were the grant of clemency to the former president's close ally Roger Stone, binders of photos and what is described as “info re: President of France.” 

The former president brought the motion for judicial oversight of the government’s review of the seized materials last month. 

Cannon, 41, served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida before Trump nominated her to the federal bench in 2020. The Senate confirmed her appointment in a 56-21 vote. 

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