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A federal judge says she will rule later on Trump's special master request

A security officer guards the entrance to the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sept. 1, 2022, where a federal judge presided over arguments at a hearing on former President Donald Trump's request for a special master to review classified documents the FBI seized from his home last month.
Marco Bello
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AFP via Getty Images
A security officer guards the entrance to the Paul G. Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Sept. 1, 2022, where a federal judge presided over arguments at a hearing on former President Donald Trump's request for a special master to review classified documents the FBI seized from his home last month.

Updated September 1, 2022 at 2:58 PM ET

A federal judge is not yet ruling on former President Donald Trump's request for a special master, saying she will enter a written order at some point.

There was no indication of when U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who presided over arguments at a hearing on Thursday afternoon, would do so. The judge also said she would unseal a list of items the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago last month during its search of the former president's home. It is unclear when that will happen.

A special master is a third party, typically an attorney, appointed by the court in cases where there is sensitive material. Trump's request for a special master was the first legal move his made team in the aftermath of the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort on Aug. 8.

Over the weekend, a federal judge said she was inclined to grant Trump's request.

The Department of Justice, though, argued in a filing this week that the "appointment of a special master is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests."

The department also wrote that in the months it took for the DOJ to try and retrieve the documents, Trump's lawyers did not make the argument that the former president had declassified the documents he was holding at Mar-a-Lago, which they are now putting forward.

The filing raised questions of whether Trump and his team attempted to obstruct justice by concealing or removing some of the documents authorities wanted.

In a response, Trump's attorneys downplayed the Justice Department's concerns about the classified material found at Mar-a-Lago, saying in a filing Wednesday that there was no "cause for alarm."

They added that the Justice Department "significantly mischaracterized" in their filing a meeting in June between prosecutors and Trump's legal team. And, they added, that without a special master, prosecutors will "impugn, leak and publicize" details of its investigation.

A local law enforcement officer is seen in front of the home of former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Fla., home, on Aug. 9, the day after it was searched by FBI agents for classified documents.
Giorgio Viera / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A local law enforcement officer is seen in front of the home of former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach, Fla., home, on Aug. 9, the day after it was searched by FBI agents for classified documents.

Legal experts say a special master is a procedural step, but could delay the investigation

Some experts say that if a federal judge does approve Trump's request for a special master, it could potentially further delay the FBI's investigation.

"If a special master were appointed, then he or she would be given some time in which to review the records," David Laufman, an attorney who formerly led the Justice Department's counterintelligence section, told NPR. "And they would sift through materials to determine if anything is truly privileged or not."

Laufman added that he thinks Trump request for a special master was primarily a move to undermine public confidence in the DOJ and FBI.

A team at the Justice Department has already reviewed many of the documents and identified some that are covered by attorney-client privilege.

Overall, though, Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general of the United States, told NPR that the potential appointment of a special master is "a large nothingburger." He says even if a special master was appointed and some of the documents did get returned to Trump, they would be documents that the FBI and DOJ have already seen.

"It's just going to be a procedural hoop that the Justice Department will have to work through," Katyal said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.