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DOJ and Trump each proposed special masters for the Mar-a-Lago probe. Here are the 4 nominees


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By Marshall Cohen, Hannah Rabinowitz and Shawna Mizelle, CNN

The Justice Department and former President Donald Trump’s lawyers proposed two selections each to a federal judge for who should serve as “special master” in the Mar-a-Lago investigation.

District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed judge presiding over the case, earlier this week granted the former President’s request to appoint a third-party attorney, known as a special master, to independently review the materials — including more than 100 classified documents — that the FBI seized from his Florida residence and resort.

Trump’s legal team has argued that the Justice Department can’t be trusted to do its own review for potentially privileged materials that should be siloed off from the criminal probe. The Justice Department on Thursday appealed the court-ordered special master review as it argued the order was putting US national security at risk.

Cannon has said she’ll decide “exact details and mechanics” of the special master process “expeditiously” after both sides submit their proposals, but it’s not clear when the judge will rule or what form that ruling will take.

Here are the four people nominated in the dueling proposals to serve as special master:

Thomas Griffith, DOJ nominee

Thomas Griffith, a retired federal judge and George W. Bush appointee, served on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals from 2005 to 2020. In one of his final major rulings before retiring, he wrote the majority opinion rejecting House Democrats’ attempt to subpoena Trump’s former White House Counsel Don McGahn. (The decision was later overturned.)

In the years since his retirement, Griffith co-authored a report alongside other prominent conservative lawyers and officials debunking Trump’s lies about massive fraud in the 2020 election. And he publicly endorsed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court.

Barbara Jones, DOJ nominee

Barbara Jones, another retired federal judge and a Clinton appointee, is a former federal prosecutor and a retired judge from the Southern District of New York from 1995 to 2012. She brings a lot of special master experience to the table, having recently served in that position for three high-profile criminal investigations with political implications.

She was tapped to serve as a special master to examine materials seized during an FBI raid of Rudy Giuliani’s home and office in April 2021. She was also a special master in the Michael Cohen case, to make sure investigators didn’t sweep up any documents that were attorney-client privileged. Both Giuliani and Cohen were Trump’s lawyers while they were investigated by the Justice Department.

More recently, Jones was the special master who examined materials that the FBI seized from Project Veritas, a right-wing group that often targets Democrats and media organizations with undercover stings. Jones was brought in to review materials for First Amendment and attorney-client considerations.

Paul Huck Jr., Trump nominee

Huck, who has his own law firm, had been a partner at the Jones Day law firm, which represented the Trump campaign in 2016, and a contributor to the conservative legal organization the Federalist Society.

Huck also previously served as the deputy attorney general for Florida and as general counsel to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — who was a Republican at the time but served as a Democratic member of the US House and is the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida. Chris Kise, Trump’s current lawyer, also worked for Crist and overlapped with Huck. They worked together at the Florida attorney general’s office.

Huck’s wife, Barbara Lagoa, was on Trump’s short list as a Supreme Court nominee after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

Raymond Dearie, Trump nominee

Dearie, a Reagan nominee, has served as a federal judge in New York since 1986. He retired in 2011 and is now a senior judge on the circuit.

Dearie also served a seven-year term on the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court. He was one of the judges who approved an FBI and DOJ request to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, as part of the federal inquiry into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

The process that federal investigators used to secure the FISA warrants was riddled with errors and overall sloppiness, according to a DOJ inspector general report. Two of the four surveillance warrants granted by the secretive FISA court regarding Page have since been declared invalid — including one approved by Dearie in June 2017 — because of omissions and mistakes in the FBI’s submissions to the court.

The Trump team’s nomination of Dearie is notable because Trump has repeatedly criticized the FISA surveillance and has claimed — without evidence — that it was part of a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine his campaign.

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