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Justice Dept. and Trump lawyers dispute how the Mar-a-Lago special master should work

In documents filed in court Friday, lawyers for former President Trump and the Department of Justice listed their preferred candidates for the role of special master.
Steve Helber
In documents filed in court Friday, lawyers for former President Trump and the Department of Justice listed their preferred candidates for the role of special master.

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and the Justice Department laid bare significant differences over who should serve as an independent special master to review materials collected during the Aug. 8 court-authorized search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club that turned up highly classified documents.

They also split over how the special master should go about the work of identifying possible privileged information to be returned to Trump.

The parties submitted a joint filing late Friday night with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ahead of a midnight deadline set by Judge Aileen Cannon.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department filed an appealto the judge's order to appoint a special master and a request to stay the order until the appeal is decided, but neither has been acted upon yet. Trump's lawyers have until Monday to respond to the appeal.

The government has proposed two retired federal judges to serve as special master if their appeal fails: Barbara S. Jones, who served in the Southern District of New York and was appointed by Bill Clinton to the federal bench, and Thomas B. Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee who served on the federal circuit court in Washington, D.C.

Trump's legal team proposed retired federal Judge Raymond J. Dearie, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the Eastern District of New York, and who also served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Their second candidate is Paul Huck Jr., a former partner at Jones Day and contributor to the Federalist Society who served in Florida state government under former Republican Govs. Charlie Crist — now a Democrat — and Rick Scott.

The Justice Dept. and Trump's lawyers disagree over how the special master should work

The government would like the review process to finish by Oct. 12, while Trump's team says it may take 90 days. The government also does not believe the special master should review classified documents or adjudicate claims of executive privilege, which they have argued Trump has no claim over as a former president. The Justice Department would like to confer with Trump's team on whether materials are privileged before they go to the special master, but the Trump team would like items all items seized in the search submitted directly to the special master.

They also disagree on who bears the cost of the special master. The government proposed that Trump's team pay the expense of the special master's work since they requested it, while Trump's lawyers propose an even split.

It's not yet clear when the differences in the role of special master will be sorted, or when the special master would be selected. Both parties have until Monday to review each other's preferred candidates.

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Corrected: September 10, 2022 at 10:00 PM MDT
This story originally stated incorrectly that Thomas B. Griffith served on the federal district court in Washington, D.C. Griffith served on the federal circuit court in D.C.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.