Right-wing media repeatedly praised the recent judicial approval of a special master to review potential evidence against Donald Trump as a “victory” for the former president and an embarrassment for the FBI, while legal experts are calling the decision “nutty,” “ridiculous,” and “problematic.”
On September 5, Trump-appointed Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida approved Trump’s request for a special master to review the documents collected as part of the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s legal team requested a special master following the August 8 search of the Florida property, arguing that the warrant was “overly broad” and that the search of Mar-a-Lago was “unprecedented.”
In her written order, Cannon said she approved the request in part to ensure the appearance of fairness under these “extraordinary circumstances” and in part because the former president may suffer “reputational harm” from the search. Cannon also asserted in her ruling that the former president retains some executive privileges despite no longer holding office.
The decision will temporarily block federal prosecutors from using evidence gathered during the Mar-a-Lago search in their investigation, but will not affect the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s investigation into whether or not the removal of the documents threatened national security.
The day after Cannon approved the request for a special master, The Washington Post reported that documents containing information about foreign countries’ nuclear weapon capabilities were among those seized at Mar-a-Lago. According to the article, some of the documents detail top-secret U.S. operations and foreign government’s nuclear defenses; information so sensitive that only the president, some members of his Cabinet, and potentially near-Cabinet-level officials can authorize others to view these documents. This will further complicate the search for a special master, as they will need top-secret security clearance, expertise in this area of the law, and to be “outside the government.”
Legal experts from both sides of the aisle have strongly condemned Cannon’s ruling to appoint a special master, calling the legal reasoning, “deeply problematic,” “laughably bad,” and “radical.” In a quote to The New York Times, Harvard Law professor Ronald S. Sullivan said Cannon’s reasoning is “thin at best” and that this decision is “giving special considerations to the former president that ordinary, everyday citizens do not receive.” Even former Trump Attorney General Bill Barr and frequent Fox News legal guest Andy McCarthy find Cannon’s ruling questionable and flimsy, arguing that the decision presents a strong opportunity for the Justice Department to appeal and overturn it. Other experts contend that Cannon herself is “biased and corrupt” and said Trump’s motivation behind the request for a special master is to “delay the impending indictment as long as possible.”
Despite the legal community’s bipartisan rejection of the ruling, conservative media immediately hailed it as a “major vote of no confidence” in the FBI and the Department of Justice, a political “victory” for the former president, and a “well-thought-out” decision.
- Newsmax host Rob Schmitt called the ruling a victory “against Biden’s rogue DOJ.” He continued to downplay the input of experts criticizing the ruling on other networks, saying, “There are so many, just, psychos you can throw on TV to say anything you want. That’s the funny thing about TV news.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 9/6/22]
- Fox host Todd Piro called Cannon’s ruling “a pretty big deal” for Trump and his legal team. Host Stuart Varney also questioned the Department of Justice’s motivations for opposing the appointment of a special master, and both agreed that the DOJ secretly wanted to delay the investigation because they want to leak documents to the media and harm Trump’s reputation. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 9/6/22]
- On the September 6 edition of Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN) said “Judge Cannon had it exactly right,” and anchor Maria Bartiromo praised Cannon’s order because it prevents the DOJ from continuing its investigation, which “they’re using … as a way to leak different things to continue to put President Trump in a negative light.” [Fox Business, Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, 9/6/22]
- Former member of Trump’s transition team Mark Smith said that from “a public relations point of view, this is a huge victory for President Trump.” He continued to say, “It is a blow to the Department of Justice. As to how long it will be a blow to the DOJ and their investigation, hard to say. But for the moment, it’s a win for Donald Trump.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 9/6/22]
- On Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, contributor Jason Chaffetz said a special master should be put in place because it is “obvious the political conflict of interest that’s there,” yet did not mention that Cannon was appointed by Trump himself. Anchor Harris Faulkner also claimed that journalists are doing “linguistic gymnastics” and “not letting the facts lead” on coverage of the special master appointment. [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 9/6/22]
- Sean Hannity hosted a panel consisting of Trump’s attorney Alina Habba, Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, and conservative commentator David Limbaugh to praise Cannon’s ruling as “a big blow to Merrick Garland.” Limbaugh attacked critics of Cannon’s ruling and asked, “What are they afraid of? We want transparency, they want to keep it secret… I submit to you that the side that wants transparency is the side less to be suspicious of.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/6/22]
- Habba also joined Newsmax and said Cannon’s “well-thought-out” legal decision will “give the country, frankly, a lot of support and comfort in knowing that things were going to be done the correct way.” [Newsmax, John Bachman Now, 9/5/22]
- In response to Barr’s criticism of the order, Newsmax host Greta Van Susteren claimed that without a special master, the investigation is “sort of like playing a basketball game and having the other team’s coach both be their coach and also be the referee and call the fouls and everything else.” Guest Francey Hakes added that she didn’t understand Barr’s opinion, as the ruling seemed “very well-reasoned.” [Newsmax, The Record with Greta Van Susteren, 9/6/22]
- Election denier and conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted that Cannon’s ruling “is a major vote of ‘no confidence’ in the FBI’s and the Biden DOJ’s ability to treat those materials fairly and impartially. Her ruling is also a rebuke to the Deep State worshippers in the media.” [Twitter, 9/5/22]
- Newsmax contributor and former Trump lawyer Jenna Ellis celebrated the response to Cannon’s ruling on Twitter: “Lib MELTDOWN today over the appointment of the special master in Trump’s case. But they keep saying ‘no one is above the law!’ Yeah — not even the DOJ.” [Twitter, 9/6/22]
- Fox News contributor and talk radio host Leo Terrell wrote on Twitter that the “Department of Justice and FBI should be embarrassed: Judge appointed a Special Master to review your dirty work!” [Twitter, 9/5/22]
- The Washington Examiner published an article that called the ruling a “big win in raid case.” [Washington Examiner, 9/6/22]
- On The Sean Hannity Show, Fox News commentator Gregg Jarrett described Cannon’s decision as “well-crafted, well-reasoned, well-supported by case law.” He continued on to call it “a well-written decision by the judge.” [Premiere Radio Network, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/6/22]