WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and the Justice Department were set to square off here Thursday as Trump made his final pitch for outside supervision of an investigation that could lead to charges for retaining highly classified information and concealing it from the government.
Trump’s legal team is seeking the appointment of a so-called special master, who would review documents the FBI seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate last month after a federal magistrate judge here issued a search warrant for evidence of highly classified documents and obstruction of justice.
U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee confirmed about a week after his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, indicated last week that she was inclined to grant Trump’s request, although she stopped short of approving it at that time.
The Justice Department opposed Trump’s request for an outside legal expert, saying they already used a separate “filter team” to cull any potential attorney-client information seized in the Aug. 8 search.
However, prosecutors also made clear that if Cannon does appoint a special master, that person’s authority should be confined to doing a fresh look only for potential attorney-client communications and not extend to other information Trump has argued should be kept from investigators, like records subject to executive privilege.
The court session Thursday also drew unusual attention for reasons beyond the potential special master appointment after the Justice Department used a filing in the case on Tuesday to air claims that Trump lawyers falsely asserted all documents marked classified were turned over in response to a grand jury subpoena issued in May.
That representation now appears to have been false: Prosecutors included a photograph from the Aug. 8 search showing a slew of documents with classification markings discovered in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago office. Trump seemed to acknowledge Wednesday that he was aware of the presence of classified documents in his office, criticizing agents for splaying the records on the floor rather than keeping them in the “cartons” he said they had been stored in.
Trump’s lawyers faced the challenging task Thursday of trying to convince the judge to appoint a special master with a broad mandate, while trying to avoid locking Trump into factual claims that could undermine potential defense if he is ultimately charged. His attorneys are also trying to invoke provisions of the Presidential Records Act while sidestepping the law’s requirement that litigation originate in Washington, D.C.
Thursday’s hearing was the first public court session Cannon has conducted on the matter since Trump filed a motion almost two weeks ago seeking outside oversight for the Justice Department probe.
Cannon usually sits at a federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Fla., about an hour’s drive north of here. However, she elected to hold Thursday’s hearing at the older courthouse in West Palm Beach, about three miles from Trump’s Florida home, which also doubles as a private club.
It also marked the first public appearance by Christopher Kise, a veteran Florida litigator, in connection with the case since he was added to Trump’s legal team in recent days.
Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who has argued before the Supreme Court, has been a longtime adviser to Republican officeholders in the state, including Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Govs. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist.
Trump on a Thursday radio show continued to insist he “declassified” documents, an assertion his lawyers did not make in their Wednesday filing.