What Is a Special Master? Judge May Appoint One in Trump Documents Probe

A federal judge said she has "preliminary intent" to appoint a special master to oversee the review of the records seized during a raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence earlier this month.

On August 8, FBI agents searched Trump's property in Palm Beach, Florida, uncovering 20 boxes of classified information allegedly improperly taken from the White House when Trump left last January. The search, criticized as politically motivated by Trump and his allies, is the latest investigation into the former president. This week, a heavily-redacted affidavit related to the search was released as questions remain about what information was in the documents.

Judge Aileen Cannon on Saturday appeared poised to side with Trump's lawyers, who this week asked for a special master to oversee the Department of Justice's (DOJ) review of the records, according to a report from the Associated Press. She scheduled a hearing on Thursday to discuss the possibility of a special master, and the DOJ will potentially have a chance to raise objections.

What Is a Special Master?

A special master is a person who is appointed by a court to oversee litigation or part of a case, as well as ensure both parties abide by a judge's orders. For instance, they may address matters "that cannot be effectively and timely addressed by an available district judge or magistrate judge of the district" or perform other duties consented to by both parties, according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Judge may appoint special master Trump investigation
Above, former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Anchorage, Alaska, on July 9. A federal judge indicated that she has “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master to oversee the Department of Justice’s review of records taken from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence earlier this month. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In recent high-profile cases, courts have appointed former judges to serve as special masters, according to the AP. Cannon also on Saturday ordered the DOJ to provide her with a more detailed list of what was taken from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump's attorneys made the request for the special master last Monday alongside a demand that the DOJ return items that were not within the scope of the search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago, and that they also received a more detailed inventory of the items taken by the FBI.

They said the special master is needed due to some of the documents taken during the search as being "presumptively privileged" because they entail presidential communication, and that they believe the FBI can't be trusted to protect Trump's rights.

However, his attorneys' request for a special master was dismissed as a "delay tactic" by Palm Beach County Attorney Dave Aronbreg, who said during a CNN interview last Monday, that his efforts would eventually fail.

"This is a day late and a dollar short," he said. "Namely, two weeks late. The documents have likely already been reviewed...It's tough to argue at this point the urgency you need to justify such an extraordinary step as a special master when you've waited two weeks to file your motion. So, this looks like a delay tactic... especially because they specifically request a pause in the investigation in this motion."

Newsweek reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.