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Dearie named special master to review Trump’s Mar-a-Lago documents

Sept. 15, 2022 Updated Thu., Sept. 15, 2022 at 8:20 p.m.

By Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein Washington Post

A federal judge has appointed Raymond J. Dearie, a former chief federal judge in New York, to sort through the more than 11,000 documents - including classified materials - that FBI agents seized from former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence last month, to see if any should be shielded from criminal investigators because of attorney-client or executive privileges.

Trump’s legal team had initially proposed Dearie to be the special master in the high-profile case and the Justice Department agreed with the selection last week. But the two groups still disagree on whether searching through the highly sensitive classified documents should be part of the special master’s responsibilities.

Ultimately, U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon ruled in Trump’s favor and said the special master should examine the classified documents, though she said Dearie should prioritize those materials. She denied a bid by prosecutors to allow them to use the seized material before the special master conducts the review.

In her Thursday night ruling, Cannon rejected Justice Department arguments that her decision to prohibit investigators from using the seized information while the special master conducts his review will cause serious harm to the national security investigation.

Even-handed application of legal rules “does not demand unquestioning trust in the determinations of the Department of Justice,” Cannon wrote in a decision that is almost certainly to be appealed by the government.

Cannon, a Trump appointee confirmed by the U.S. Senate just days after Trump lost his bid for reelection, added that she still “firmly” believes that the appointment of a special master, and a temporary injunction against the Justice Department using the documents, is in keeping “with the need to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under unprecedented circumstances.”

Prosecutors had previously signaled that if Cannon did not amend her restrictions on the criminal investigation of Trump and his aides for possibly mishandling national defense information, or hiding or destroying government records, they would file an appeal.

Dearie, 78, was nominated to the federal bench in Brooklyn by President Reagan after serving as U.S. Attorney in the same district. Fellow lawyers and colleagues described him as an exemplary, low-key jurist who is well suited to the task, having previously served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees sensitive national security cases.

Patrick Cotter, who served as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, said he was surprised Trump’s team suggested such a smart, low-key jurist.

“There wasn’t much personality, and I mean that as a compliment. Ray wasn’t chummy, and he wasn’t a good ol’ Brooklyn boy or high-falutin’ guy trying to impress you. He was a very matter-of-fact, down to earth judge with a minimum of pomposity. He will do a credible job, and will do it quickly.”

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