US judge appoints 'special master' in Trump document case

The department filed suit to be able to resume looking at the classified papers right away. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A judge on Thursday named an independent arbiter to sort through thousands of documents seized from Mr Donald Trump's Florida estate and determine if any of them are protected by executive privilege.

This so-called special master will be Mr Raymond Dearie, a federal judge in New York, Judge Aileen Cannon ruled.

The US Justice Department last week accepted this choice of candidate by Mr Trump, who is behind the drive for a special master in the unprecedented case of the Aug 8 FBI raid on his seaside mansion.

Judge Cannon last week issued an injunction that barred the Justice Department from using any of the documents, including the ones marked classified, for its investigation while the special master conducted his review.

The department argued that a smaller set of 100 or so classified documents that are part of the reams of papers taken from Mar-a-Lago should first be given to criminal prosecutors investigating Mr Trump, before they go to the special master.

The department filed suit to be able to resume looking at the classified papers right away.

But in her ruling Thursday, Judge Cannon refused to lift any part of her injunction. She rejected the Justice Department's argument that her injunction freezing the probe harmed national security.

Mr Trump is facing mounting legal pressure, with the Justice Department saying top-secret documents were "likely concealed" to obstruct an FBI probe into his potential mishandling of classified materials.

He has denied all wrongdoing, saying the raid was "one of the most egregious assaults on democracy in the history of our country".

Government attorneys previously opposed Mr Trump's special master request altogether, arguing that an independent screening for privileged material could harm national security, and was also unnecessary as a team has already completed a screening.

In addition to the documents probe, Mr Trump faces investigations in New York into his business practices, as well as legal scrutiny over his efforts to overturn results of the 2020 election, and for the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters. AFP

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