“What does Trump have on Judge Cannon?”: Experts stunned after judge overrules own special master

"Something is so off," ex-prosecutor says, "it is impossible not to ask this question in all seriousness"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 30, 2022 9:22AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday overruled the special master she appointed to review thousands of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, shielding former President Donald Trump from addressing his claims that documents may have been "planted" or "declassified" in court.

Cannon, a Trump appointee in southern Florida, issued an order extending the timeline of the review after Trump's lawyers objected to the expedited schedule laid out by special master Raymond Dearie, who was chosen from a list proposed by Trump's lawyers. Under the new order, the review and any surrounding issues around Dearie's rulings "will almost certainly" stretch into next year, according to Politico.

Cannon, who has served on the bench for less than two years, also overruled Dearie, a Reagan appointee who has served for 36 years, on his requirement that Trump assert whether the FBI's inventory of seized items is accurate, effectively challenging his public claim that agents may have "planted" evidence.

"There shall be no separate requirement on Plaintiff at this stage, prior to the review of any of the Seized Materials, to lodge ex ante final objections to the accuracy of Defendant's Inventory, its descriptions, or its contents. The Court's Appointment Order did not contemplate that obligation," Cannon wrote.

She wrote that if any issues rise during the review "that require reconsideration of the Inventory or the need to object to its contents, the parties shall make those matters known to the Special Master for appropriate resolution and recommendation to this Court."

Cannon also rejected other parts of Dearie's plan for the review, giving Trump's lawyers additional weeks to assert whether they believe any documents are covered by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

"If Judge Cannon was going to continue calling every ball in Trump's favor, I'm not at all sure why she felt the need to appoint a special master to review the documents the government seized from Mar-a-Lago," tweeted Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney. "No real surprises here. The name of the game is delay. Judge Cannon countermanded Judge Dearie's streamlined schedule & helped Trump advance his usual delay game in litigation. That means it could be late December before DOJ can use documents it recovered from Mar-a-Lago."

Cannon previously came under criticism for repeatedly siding with Trump in the case. Cannon's initial order barred the Justice Department from continuing its criminal investigation into the documents and ordered documents marked classified to be included in the special master review and shared with Trump's lawyers. A federal appeals court overturned those rulings, arguing that she had abused her discretion and that Trump "not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents."

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Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe said that Cannon's order on Thursday was "clearly wrong."

"But she's a sideshow now that the Court of Appeals has lifted her injunction with respect to the classified documents," he tweeted. "On the eve of her stupidly extended deadline, DOJ should indict Trump and render her delays and game playing moot."

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said the order was a "minor win" for Trump.

"But this doesn't change the difficult position Trump is in," he added. "He still has to take a position regarding every seized document."

Some legal experts criticized Cannon for repeatedly intervening on Trump's behalf.

"She's an embarrassment to the federal judiciary," wrote conservative attorney George Conway.

"Cannon's latest order has neither law nor reason on its side," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman. "Judges never micromanage special masters this way," he said.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, said that the order was "one more piece of evidence that she is completely unfit to serve on the bench."

 "What does Donald Trump have on Judge Cannon or her husband?" Weissmann wrote. "Something is SO off in her decisions (and the court of appeals said as much) that it is impossible not to ask this question in all seriousness."

Read Cannon's full order below:

Cannon overrules Dearie by Igor Derysh on Scribd

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Aileen Cannon Donald Trump Politics Raymond Dearie