Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida has demanded that Trump’s attorneys provide more details on the nature of Trump’s requests, the basis for the court’s jurisdiction, and whether or not the Justice Department has been served with Trump’s special master motion.
Cannon also asked the Trump legal team for input on how the request may affect the magistrate judge’s investigation into whether or not the FBI’s affidavit detailing probable cause for the search should be unsealed.
The judge’s judgment highlights many of the ways in which Trump’s complaint requesting the appointment of a special master was inadequate, especially in light of the stakes involved in the search the FBI conducted at Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
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Simply put, “What are you doing in front of me?” is what she seems to be asking. Former US Attorney’s Office employee turned Florida criminal defense attorney Mark Schnapp told CNN.
Trump’s request for a special master to review the evidence seized from his Florida home is not outside the norm of the law. When the FBI searched Michael Cohen’s office and residence in 2018, Cohen’s former attorney successfully petitioned for the appointment of a special master.
Although the Justice Department is likely far along in the process of reviewing what it seized at Mar-a-Lago, Trump waited two weeks to make such a request, raising eyebrows. (A “taint team,” comprised of prosecutors who aren’t involved in the investigation at hand and who are tasked with vetting evidence before it is handed over to investigators, is conducting the review for the Justice Department.)
The lawsuit Trump filed with the court was heavy on political charges and scant on the sort of legal explanation that would explain why the court should intervene and under what power it was doing so. The norms of civil procedure were mentioned by Trump’s attorneys as the basis for the judge’s decision to grant the request, but no explanation was provided for why these rules should be applied in the setting of a criminal search warrant.
Trump also failed to include a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction with the complaint, which would have prompted the judge to consider Trump’s claims more quickly.
And Trump’s legal team didn’t submit any declarations — statements from the attorneys who were alleged to have communicated with the Justice Department before, during, and after the search — to corroborate the complaint’s factual claims.
As an alternative, the complaint recycled old allegations about the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election while making the sensational claim that the DOJ’s actions were motivated by a desire to thwart a Trump presidential run in 2024. The complete wording of a warning Trump allegedly wanted his lawyers to issue to Attorney General Merrick Garland was also included.
According to Schnapp, Trump’s filing on Monday was more of an overt political statement than a formal legal document.
Not much was needed, and that was all they asked for. Schnapp summed up the insanity by saying, “That’s the deal. Even though they claimed to be trying to slow it down, “they didn’t ask for anything to be done in the near future”
Experts outside the court system were also perplexed by Trump’s decision to file the request in a separate case assigned to Judge Cannon rather than with the magistrate judge who approved the warrant. The filing of the complaint and the attorneys’ attempts to enter appearances in the case appear to have been met with some procedural difficulties on Trump’s behalf.
The lawsuit was “submitted conventionally” when it “should have been filed electronically” in accordance with the court’s local rules, according to one notification posted on the docket.
According to another letter from the clerk, Trump’s lawyers who were not barred in Florida but were requesting special entry to enter appearances in the case did not comply with local laws. They got a second chance to log their appearance details accurately.