A federal judge in Florida granted Donald Trump’s request on Monday for a special master to review documents seized during a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate, which included “classified” and “top secret” files.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon authorized the appointment to review the documents for possible claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, or to prevent government lawyers from reading those documents.
Cannon also temporarily blocked the Justice Department from reviewing the seized records for investigative purposes. Attorneys for the department said they had already reviewed the documents for Trump’s attorney and executive privilege claims, but opposed stopping the use of documents to investigate possible crimes.
Cannon ruled that the Director of National Intelligence could continue to review the documents to determine national security risks.
“The Court authorizes the appointment of a special master to search the seized property for personal effects and documents and potentially privileged material subject to claims of attorney and/or executive privilege,” Cannon ruled.
Cannon ruled that Trump had shown that public and private interests were at stake in the case and supported a temporary freeze on the government’s investigative use of the documents.
“As Plaintiff stated at the hearing, the investigation and treatment of a former president is of singular interest to the general public and the country is best served by an orderly process that advances the interest and perception of justice,” Cannon wrote.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the decision.
Cannon asked Trump and Justice Department lawyers to jointly submit a list of names of potential special masters by Sept. 9. He postponed a decision on whether to order the return of the documents to Trump.
FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8 for evidence of possible crimes, including the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. The investigation followed months of negotiations between Trump’s lawyers and the administration to return documents to the National Archives and Records Administration or other government agencies.
Trump voluntarily returned 15 boxes in January, but federal authorities said more Trump administration documents remained at Mar-a-Lago. FBI agents obtained more classified documents with a June 3 subpoena.
Cannon released a detailed list Friday of where sensitive documents were found at Mar-a-Lago, a warehouse and Trump’s office. The list described classified documents with unmarked government records, photographs and even clothing, in a random fashion.
But government officials have described the classified material as some of the most sensitive secrets the government keeps about intelligence gathering and human intelligence sources.
Cannon ruled that Trump risked significant reputational damage from the government holding and possibly using privileged documents.
“In connection with Plaintiff’s past position as President of the United States, the stigma attached to the seizure of the subject matter is of its own,” Cannon wrote. “A future indictment, based in any degree on assets that should be returned, would result in reputational damage of a distinctly different order of magnitude.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida judge authorizes special master to review Trump search records