Judge Aileen Cannon Dismisses Trump’s Special Master Bid for Mar-a-Lago Docs
Former President Donald Trump’s clumsy attempt to halt the FBI investigation into how he hoarded classified documents at Mar-a-Lago has met its inevitable end, bursting into flames and having a boy’s reputation and inexperienced federal judge he appointed in his own brought with him final days in the White House.
On Monday morning, US District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, following orders from a federal appeals court, dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety.
The case, which lasted just over three months, was notable in the way this South Florida federal judge considered the former president’s novel legal theories — all in the service of trying to slow a potential criminal indictment that was his drive return threatened.
From her private quarters in Fort Pierce, Fla., Cannon dismissed the case, acknowledging that she had no jurisdiction to ever treat him.
The unilateral order and its extremely succinct “dismissed for lack of jurisdiction” reasoning completely unraveled the 24-page screed it issued in September — one that shocked the legal profession because it offered an unprecedented justification for inserting itself into an ongoing division of the judicial investigation.
Monday’s order noted that all deadlines have expired, future hearings are canceled and pending legal arguments are “denied as moot”. Gone is the legal justification she put forward to defend her president — along with her appointment of a special master to shut down the investigation.
“Three months late, but at least it’s over,” commented Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney who sometimes advises The Daily Beast on public records disputes.
The case arose from the FBI’s Aug. 8 raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida home, during which special agents found nearly 100 classified documents in his office furniture and in boxes stacked around the busy Ocean Club. Prosecutors justified conducting the unprecedented search with a looming threat to national security given that some of the country’s secrets have been sloppily and carelessly guarded at an estate that hosts political rallies, large parties and fundraisers involving people from around the world – including foreign ones spies.
Trump’s attorneys waited three weeks to push back those claims, engaging in a still-unresolved judge-assigned roulette game to wait and land the friendliest judge they could. Where an earlier attempt had failed, this one succeeded – and Cannon waited little time before plunging.
On September 5, she issued an order barring FBI agents from even touching some of the evidence they found. She also arranged for another judge — all the way down in Brooklyn — to conduct a carefully slow review of more than 11,000 pages.
The move immediately worried legal scholars, who described it as blatant endorsement by a judge who owed her rise to the real purpose of the investigation.
But it was only later that her own failure of the court staff revealed that she was even acting in bad faith, claiming the former president suffered “real harm” because he was “withheld from potentially significant personal documents.” For example, some of the “medical records” she feared FBI agents might leak to the press — an act she saw as “risking irreparable injury” for the former president — actually contained a medical certificate that Trump himself released when he was running for the White House in 2016 as part of a publicity stunt.
Then, when the well-respected semi-retired federal judge she had appointed special prosecutor tried to speed up the document review and speed up the investigation, Cannon did everything to slow it down yet again.
Finally, last month a panel of conservative judges at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals took the floor, dismissing legal arguments made by Trump’s attorneys and warning that they could seriously disrupt the functioning of the nation’s legal system.
“We would have to be concerned about the precedent we’re setting that would allow any target of a federal investigation to go before a district court and test this … and disrupt the ongoing executive branch investigation,” one of the judges said on the call.
These judges, all appointed by former President George HW Bush, a Republican, and Trump himself, showed they were unwilling to throw a lifeline to Trump.
“The case ends in humiliation for Judge Cannon,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “She was resoundingly crushed by her Conservative peers, who explained that she didn’t just have a creative interpretation of the law. It’s that she meddled in a case she wasn’t a part of — essentially acting as another advocate for the former President of the United States.”
“Their decisions simply lacked any legal restraint. This is well outside the bounds of acceptable. And she made political decisions without a legal basis,” Levinson added. “That’s as bad as it can get for a judge who’s trying to gain jurisdiction when she shouldn’t, which is to have like-minded appellate judges say, ‘What were you even thinking here?'”
The federal investigation continues and is now being led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, an aggressive war crimes prosecutor who left his post in Europe last month.