What is a special master? Trump's fight against FBI Mar-a-Lago search

US Department of Justice issues detailed response against appointment of independent overseer

The US Department of Justice filed a response arguing against a special master before a hearing about the request. EPA
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Former US president Donald Trump's legal team has requested that a “special master” be assigned to the case stemming from an FBI search of his home in Palm Beach, Florida.

The FBI obtained about 20 boxes of documents and materials in an August 8 search for an investigation into whether Mr Trump violated the Espionage Act and other federal laws.

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice filed a response arguing against a special master before a hearing about the request on Thursday.

What is a special master?

A special master is a third-party individual acting as an independent overseer of an ongoing case.

In the FBI review of documents obtained from Mr Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, a special master would also look at what was retrieved and set aside personal material.

The special master would also work to return those privileged documents that may not fall under the FBI's search warrant.

Where is the case today?

US District Judge Aileen Cannon said on Tuesday that she will consider Mr Trump's request for a special master on Thursday.

Legal experts argue that Mr Trump's team made its request late in the process. Such a request would usually take place in the hours or days after a search by law enforcement.

Mr Trump's team filed the request more than two weeks after the Mar-a-Lago search.

The Department of Justice filed a 36-page document on Tuesday arguing against assigning a special master.

The agency maintained that "there is no legal basis for the appointment of a special master" and that "executive privilege clearly does not apply to the seized records".

It also said "appointment of a special master is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests".

Has the Justice Department finished its review of the documents?

At the weekend, the department said it has already gone through all the documents FBI agents obtained from Mr Trump's home.

In an update on Monday, the agency also said that it has used a “filter team” to go through the items and it found “a limited set of materials” that may be protected by attorney-client privilege.

It says it is working to address those issues.

Updated: August 31, 2022, 9:01 PM