DOJ Stands on Decision to Appoint Privilege Review Team, But Judge Could Still Appoint a Special Master

The Department of Justice is on the verge of losing any aspect of its reputation for independence from political involvement. The DOJ announced in a court filing on Monday that they have already reviewed the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida resident of former President Donald Trump. 

They said that they identified a “limited set” of documents that could include information protected by the attorney-client privilege. They also noted that they would provide more information about the materials seized in a separate filing that would be submitted to the court in the future. 

The Justice Department made it clear that before the court appoints a special master to take the lead in any document review, it is important to know that they already set up a privilege review team, apart from the team doing a criminal investigation, to go through the documents. 

Former President Donald Trump’s legal team has requested a special master which is an independent, court-appointed person who would be placed in charge of reviewing documents. The privilege review team already put in place by the DOJ consisted of federal personnel not involved with the investigation who was responsible for pulling out any privileged information. 

“The Privilege Review Team … identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information, completed its review of those materials, and is in the process of following the procedures set forth in paragraph 84 of the search warrant affidavit to address potential privilege disputes, if any,” the DOJ filing said. 

The process from the DOJ now will be to ask the court to decide on any potentially privileged material and find out from the Trump team if they are going to assert privilege or attempt to keep material away from investigators. 

According to the DOJ, they will be working with the Director of National Intelligence to facilitate a classification review of materials recovered under the search. They also noted that these parties will lead an intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of these materials.

 Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Southern District of Florida announced on Saturday her “preliminary intent to appoint a special master.” This is a partial victory for the Trump team to have an independent person going through the materials the FBI seized in their raid of Trump’s personal residence earlier this month. 

Trump’s Lawyers Maintain Information Was Declassified

Trump’s lawyers argue that there were “exceptional circumstance,” and that the government’s decision to support this raid just months before the November elections “involved political calculations aimed at diminishing the leading voice in the Republican Party, President Trump.”

The next step in the courts for this case is scheduled for Thursday of this week. It will take place at the federal courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida. Judge Cannon has ordered the Justice Department to provide, under seal, a “more detailed Receipt for Property specifying all property seized pursuant to the search warrant executed on August 8, 2022.”

The search by the government was conducted based on what was 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 defense from Trump’s lawyers is focused on the classification issue. They say that the information and records were already declassified.

All eyes will be on Judge Cannon this week. If she appoints a special master, the DOJ could have to pull back from its intent to prosecute. The stakes remain high, and the midterms hang in the balance.