A federal judge indicated Thursday that she’s giving serious consideration to temporarily barring Justice Department investigators from reviewing material seized from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
DOJ attorneys pushed back sharply against any such limits, warning against disruption of their ongoing criminal investigation
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon suggested that she’s mulling imposing that restriction, while potentially allowing an exception for the intelligence community to continue reviewing national security risks from the potential exposure of the slew of sensitive documents the FBI found at Trump’s compound earlier this month.
Cannon’s willingness to consider restraints — even for a period of time — on prosecutors and investigators in the politically explosive inquiry is some of the first positive news for Trump and his attorneys in a saga that presents an acute legal threat and has caused new strains with Republican elected officials.
Justice Department attorneys pushed back sharply against any such limits, warning against disruption of their ongoing criminal investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents. Cannon, who previously said she was inclined to order an outside review of the materials seized from Trump’s estate, appeared undeterred during a 90-minute hearing that featured arguments from DOJ counterintelligence officials and Trump’s legal team.
Senior Justice Department attorney Jay Bratt repeatedly pleaded with Cannon, a Trump appointee, not to interrupt their ongoing criminal probe, emphasizing that the search warrant executed Aug. 8 was clearly valid and lawfully authorized to obtain “evidence of three significant federal crimes.”
“He is no longer the president and because he is no longer the president he did not have the right to take those documents,” said Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “He was unlawfully in possession of them…This plaintiff does not have an interest in the classified and other presidential records.”
Cannon signaled concern about a couple of instances in which the investigative team had flagged potentially privileged material that was not screened out during the initial review of records by the DOJ “filter team” assigned to prevent such occurrences.
The judge gave no indication she planned to limit the privilege claims Trump could lodge in a still-to-be-determined review process. That suggested she could impose a special master with broad purview to screen documents for any potentially subject to executive privilege claims by Trump — despite DOJ’s argument that no such claim could ever be upheld in this context.
“It would be unprecedented for the executive to be able to successfully assert privilege against the executive branch,” said Julie Edelstein, a Bratt deputy.