A federal judge in Florida who handled Donald Trump’s dispute last fall with the Justice Department over classified documents found at his home appears to have been initially assigned to the former president’s new criminal case, according to a person familiar with the matter.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s name is on the summons that Trump’s lawyers received Thursday instructing him to make his first appearance at a Florida courthouse next week to face a criminal indictment over handling of those documents, said the person, who asked for anonymity to discuss confidential information.
It wasn’t clear if Cannon will remain permanently assigned to the case. The assignment was reported earlier by ABC News.
It also wasn’t immediately clear if Cannon was randomly assigned to the new criminal case – which is how federal courts typically handle the process – or if she’d been tapped because of her role presiding over the earlier civil litigation related to the classified documents investigation. Litigants can designate cases as “related” and seek to have them assigned to the same judge, but that usually happens between similar types of proceedings – keeping civil matters or criminal matters together, but not overlapping.
Cannon, who sits in the Fort Pierce division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, was nominated by Trump to the bench and confirmed in November 2020. A former federal prosecutor, her resume also featured some of the conservative-leaning credentials that were hallmarks of Trump’s judicial nominees. Those included membership in the Federalist Society – a conservative lawyers’ group – a clerkship for a Republican-nominated federal appeals judge, and the support of her Republican home state senators.
District court judges tend to have fewer opportunities than their appellate colleagues for ideological distinctions to make a difference in their rulings, but legal pundits had expressed surprise at her rulings when Trump filed a civil lawsuit last year contesting the seizure of materials from his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In September, Cannon granted Trump’s request to temporarily block federal investigators from using documents with classified markings seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in a criminal investigation. She named U.S. District Court Judge Raymond J. Dearie as special master to review all 11,000 documents that were taken.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals twice reversed her. Appellate panels first carved out materials with classified markings from her injunction and the special master review, meaning prosecutors could resume using those even as the fight over the remaining documents was active. In December, the appeals court overturned her ruling altogether, ending the special master review and freeing the Justice Department to resume using all of the documents to build a criminal case.
Those reversals prompted speculation among commentators that the judge could be subject to a recusal motion by the Justice Department; the bar is typically high for parties to force a judge to step aside if they don’t choose to do so on their own. The docket for the criminal case against Trump is under seal, so any activity related to the judicial assignment isn’t public yet.
Trump was notified by his lawyers Thursday that he has been indicted by a grand jury in Miami federal court in connection with the documents in a first for a former president. He’s due to make his first court appearance on Tuesday.