The special master review of evidence seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is no more.
Judge Aileen Cannon on Monday formally dismissed the case, which Trump brought to challenge the Mar-a-Lago evidence collection and in which she appointed special master Raymond Dearie, another judge, to make recommendations on whether prosecutors could access evidence.
The dismissal of the case now gives the Justice Department full access to tens of thousands of records and other items found among documents marked as classified in Trump’s beach club and private office.
Cannon’s dismissal follows the appeals court above her deciding that she had no authority to be involved in the Justice Department criminal investigation before any charges are brought. The court told Cannon the case must be dismissed and there will be no further proceedings before Cannon in the Southern District of Florida.
The new order closes the book on what had been a rare bright spot for Trump in his otherwise floundering attempts to stymie the sprawling investigations into his conduct.
Cannon – a Trump appointee who sits on the federal court in Ft. Pierce, Florida, which is in the same US court district as Mar-a-Lago – drew criticism from across the ideological spectrum for how she handled the litigation Trump brought days after the FBI’s search of his winter home.
That critique culminated in a scathing opinion from an appellate court panel – stacked with GOP appointees – that tore apart Trump and Cannon’s rationale for why the special master was necessary.
For the review, Cannon tapped Dearie, a senior judge in Brooklyn, to hash out disputes between Trump and the Justice Department over whether certain documents obtained in the search should be withheld from federal investigators.
Though Dearie was tasked with making recommendations on those questions, Cannon was set to be the final arbiter of those disputes until the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the special master appointment was unjustified.
Because Cannon blocked DOJ investigators from using the seized documents in their criminal probe while the special master process unfolded, the review stood to slow down the Justice Department’s investigation. The department is looking at whether three criminal statutes were violated in how sensitive government documents from Trump’s White House were taken to and stored at Mar-a-Lago.
Earlier in the litigation, the Justice Department obtained from the 11th Circuit a carve-out that allowed investigators to use in its investigation the documents marked as classified that were seized in the search.
And there were other indications that the investigation has made progress even while large parts of it were on hold. The federal grand jury overseeing the probe heard testimony in recent weeks from Trump aides.
The investigation has recently been taken over by special counsel Jack Smith, who has stressed his desire not to let it get slowed down.
Still, prosecutors warned that the review was impeding their ability to question witnesses about how certain documents were handled and co-mingled with Trump’s personal effects at his home.
Trump had argued that some of the documents that the FBI obtained were covered by attorney-client privilege, executive privilege or were of a personal nature that made them outside the bounds of the criminal probe.
While the special master order had the effect of impeding aspects of the department’s probe, it also led to an unprecedented view into the documents’ investigation, including for Trump’s legal team, as the Justice Department argued in court that the third-party review wasn’t necessary.
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