ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is under fire after her decision this week to grant a request by former President Donald Trump’s legal team for an independent arbitrator to review documents obtained during his latest investigation FBI at his property in Florida. month.
Cannon on Monday authorized an outside legal expert to review records obtained during the Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago as part of an investigation into Trump’s improper retention of sensitive White House material. The expert will have the authority to suppress any material that may be protected by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
The order came after strong objections from the Justice Department, which said a so-called special master was unnecessary in part because officials had already completed their review of the potentially privileged documents.
The move was cheered by Trump supporters seeking control over the administration’s investigation. But others say Cannon gave undue credit to the former president and unnecessarily stalled some investigative work by the Justice Department. They say it has slowed the momentum of the federal investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act.
The Justice Department has not said whether it will appeal, though there are reasons it may not want to, including concern that it could further delay the investigation or produce case law it deems unfavorable to future investigations, said the Brandon Fox, Los Angeles defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.
Regardless, he said, Cannon’s opinion creates a perception of “two systems of justice.”
“The criminal justice system is set up to try to make sure everyone is held equally accountable for alleged crimes they’ve committed,” Fox said. “Here, it appears that Mr. Trump gets a special benefit” because he is a former president.
Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, told Fox News on Tuesday that the opinion was “deeply flawed in a number of ways.”
A little-known federal judge appointed to the bench two years ago by Trump, Cannon made easily the most important move of her career on Monday. It put the Colombian-born former federal prosecutor at the center of a simmering legal debate about the limits of executive privilege and presidential power.
Cannon is the least senior federal judge for the Southern District of Florida, where five of the 16 active judges were appointed by Trump. According to court rules, cases like the special main request are “assigned on a blind, rotating basis … to a judge assigned to hear cases in the division to which the case is assigned.”
During her roughly seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney, Cannon worked primarily out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Fort Pierce, Florida, which is part of the same federal district as Miami but about 120 miles to the north. Cases there generally don’t get the same kind of media attention as those in the more densely populated areas around Miami.
Beginning in 2013, Cannon prosecuted 41 cases as part of the Major Crimes Division, later handling appeals of criminal convictions and sentences.
One of them involved a defendant in a major $800 million Ponzi scheme who unsuccessfully appealed his multiple fraud convictions to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Atlanta. Her opposing counsel in that case, longtime Miami defense attorney Richard Klugh, described Cannon as “very smart and talented” and fair to the defense.
“I didn’t see anything that I could describe as anything other than good lawyering and no political bias,” Klugh said, adding that he has worked on cases handled by Cannon as a federal judge, though he has not appeared in her courtroom. .
“It is known for fair procedures and hearings. You like someone who really listens to you,” she said.
Born in Cali, Colombia in 1981 as her father worked in advertising throughout South and Latin America, Cannon came to the United States as a child, eventually graduating from Duke University in 2003.
During her college years, Cannon wrote a series of articles for El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language newspaper in south Florida owned by the Miami Herald. According to a list of articles provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cannon wrote primarily on topics related to health and culture.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 2007, Cannon clerked for U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Collotton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. He then worked in private practice in Washington for three years with the prominent international law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
The question of loyalty to Trump came up during her 2020 Senate confirmation process, when Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked in writing whether Cannon had “any discussions with anyone — including, but not limited to, individuals in the White House, in the Department of Justice or any outside groups — about loyalty to President Trump?”
“No,” was Kanon’s simple reply.
Of course, being a Trump-appointed judge in no way guarantees a ruling in his favor.
In May, for example, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly — nominated by Trump in 2017 — allowed the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to obtain the Republican National Committee’s email marketing data that led to violence, brushing aside claims that the committee’s practices were inappropriate. Other justices appointed by Trump have come out in favor of the panel’s work.
But Cannon’s opinion in that case, and her thoughts on the potential for “reputational damage” to Trump if he is indicted, have focused new attention on her judicial background.
Cannon’s initial response to the special lead request, in which she asked the Trump team for more clarity about exactly what they wanted her to do and why they believed she might have jurisdiction, indicated some skepticism. But days later, she followed up with a new order saying it was her “preliminary intention” to appoint a special master but would give the Justice Department a chance to object to it first.
Since 2005, Cannon has been a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has defended Trump-appointed judges, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
During her confirmation hearing in July 2020, the then-prosecutor noted that her mother “had to flee the oppressive Castro regime in search of freedom and safety,” leaving Cuba at age 7.
“Thank you for teaching me about the blessing that this country has and the importance of ensuring the rule of law for generations to come,” Cannon said, addressing her mother.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina and Tucker from Washington.
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