FIRST ON FOX: A federal judge on Saturday announced her “preliminary intent to appoint a special master” to review records seized by the FBI during its unprecedented raid of his Mar-a-Lago home earlier this month, at the request of former President Trump and his legal team, citing the “exceptional circumstances.”
Trump and his legal team filed a motion Monday evening seeking an independent review of the records seized by the FBI during its raid of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month, saying the decision to search his private residence just months before the 2022 midterm elections “involved political calculations aimed at diminishing the leading voice in the Republican Party, President Trump.”
U.S. District Judge from the Southern District of Florida Judge Aileen M. Cannon on Saturday afternoon said that the decision was made upon the review of Trump’s submissions and “the exceptional circumstances presented.”
“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.
A hearing is set for Sept. 1 at 1:00 p.m. in West Palm Beach, Fla. Cannon also ordered the Justice Department to file a response by Aug. 30 and provide, “under seal,” a “more detailed Receipt for Property specifying all property seized pursuant to the search warrant executed on August 8, 2022.”
The current property receipt shows that FBI agents took approximately 20 boxes of items from the premises, including one set of documents marked as “Various classified/TS/SCI documents,” which refers to top secret/sensitive compartmented information.
Records covered by that government classification level could potentially include human intelligence and information that, if disclosed, could jeopardize relations between the U.S. and other nations, as well as the lives of intelligence operatives abroad. However, the classification also encompasses national security information related to the daily operations of the president of the United States.
The property receipt also showed that FBI agents collected four sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, but the document does not reveal any details about any of those records.
The government initiated the search in response to what it believed to be a violation of federal laws: 18 USC 793 — gathering, transmitting or losing defense information; 18 USC 2071 — concealment, removal or mutilation; and 18 USC 1519 — destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
The allegation of “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” falls under the Espionage Act.
Trump and his team are disputing the classification and say they believe the information and records to have been declassified.
Cannon also ordered the Justice Department to file under seal a “particularized notice indicating the status” of its review of the seized property, “including any filter review conducted by the privilege review team and any dissemination of materials beyond the privilege review team.”
Cannon also said that the Justice Department should include in its filings its “respective and particularized positions on the duties and responsibilities of a prospective special master, along with any other considerations pertinent to the appointment of a special master in this case.”
Trump’s motion for a special master filed Monday evening, requested that the Justice Department halt its ongoing review of the material seized by the FBI during the raid — some labeled classified, and others covered by attorney-client privilege — until an independent review could be conducted.
At this point, a Department of Justice “taint” or “filter” team has been reviewing documents seized by the FBI during its raid.
A senior law enforcement official familiar with the process told Fox News that the review began soon after the search warrant was executed on Aug. 8.
The official told Fox News that it is standard procedure for the Justice Department to use a “taint” or “filter” team to go through documents obtained during a search — in part, to identify records that may be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Fox News first reported earlier this month that FBI agents seized boxes containing records covered by attorney-client privilege and potentially executive privilege during the raid.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Fox News Saturday that the former president’s team was informed that boxes labeled A-14, A-26, A-43, A-13, A-33, and a set of documents — all seen on the final page of the FBI’s property receipt — contained information covered by attorney-client privilege.
Attorney-client privilege refers to a legal privilege that keeps communications between an attorney and their client confidential. It is unclear, at this point, if the records include communications between the former president and his private attorneys, White House counsel during the Trump administration or a combination.
The ruling Saturday comes after another federal judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, released a redacted version of the affidavit used to justify the FBI’s raid.
The FBI, in the heavily-redacted affidavit, said it had “probable cause to believe” that additional records containing classified information, including National Defense Information, would be found on the premises of Mar-a-Lago, beyond what he had previously turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
Reinhart signed the FBI’s warrant for the raid on Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 5, giving the FBI authority to conduct its search–a document Reinhart unsealed, along with the property receipt from the raid earlier this month.