A federal judge’s extraordinary decision to interject in the criminal investigation into former President Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents at his Florida residence showed unusual solicitude to him, experts say. This was “an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation,” University of Texas law Prof. Stephen Vladeck tells the New York Times. Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, blocked federal prosecutors from further examining the seized materials until a special master had completed a review.
Cannon took several steps that specialists said were vulnerable to being overturned if the government files an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. Paul Rosenzweig, a homeland security official in the George W. Bush administration and prosecutor in the independent counsel investigation of Bill Clinton, said it was egregious to block the Justice Department from steps like asking witnesses about classified government files that agents had already reviewed. “This would seem to me to be a genuinely unprecedented decision by a judge,” Rosenzweig said. “Enjoining the ongoing criminal investigation is simply untenable.” A specialist in separation of powers, Peter Shane of New York University, said there was no basis for Cannon to expand a special master’s authority to screen materials that were also potentially subject to executive privilege. That tool is normally thought of as protecting internal executive branch deliberations from disclosure to outsiders like Congress. “The opinion seems oblivious to the nature of executive privilege,” he said.