Judge Aileen Cannon undermined the special master she appointed in a new ruling about Trump documents.
Cannon extended the deadline for the special master review of the documents from November 30 to December 16.
She also excused Trump's lawyers from having to submit a sworn declaration about whether they contest the FBI's list of documents.
A federal judge on Thursday spared former President Donald Trump and his lawyers from having to submit a sworn declaration about whether they believe the FBI inaccurately summarized the items seized from his South Florida home.
Judge Aileen Cannon's ruling wiped away an earlier decision from the outsider arbiter - known as a "special master" - she herself had appointed to review the more than 11,000 documents retrieved from Mar-Lago during an August 8 search of Trump's residence and private club in West Palm Beach. That special master, Senior Judge Raymond Dearie, had ordered Trump's lawyers to address by October 7 whether they contested the completeness and accuracy of the FBI's inventory of records discovered during the search.
In a six-page ruling, Cannon said her order appointing Dearie "did not contemplate that obligation" for Trump's lawyers and the former president, who has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the FBI planted some of the highly-sensitive documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
The decision plainly exposed power dynamics at play in the high-stakes dispute between Trump and the Justice Department over records seized from the FBI's unprecedented search of a former president's home. While Dearie is closest to the review, Cannon's decision marked a clear exertion of force over proceedings.
"Judge Cannon is reminding Judge Dearie and the rest of us that she is still in charge here," said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor who served as the top federal prosecutor in Detroit during the Obama administration.
"She is essentially reversing Judge Dearie's order requiring Trump to put up or shut up about 'planted' evidence," McQuade told Insider. "Judge Cannon's order permits Trump to preserve that defense without any supporting facts, at least for now."
Dearie, who was appointed to sift out records potentially covered by attorney-client or executive privilege, said Trump's lawyers could not suggest in court filings that the inventory of seized items was inaccurate without providing evidence in support of that claim. In ordering the sworn declaration, Dearie wrote, "This submission shall be Trump's final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory."
Trump filed a lawsuit on August 22 demanding that Cannon appoint a special master to review records seized from Mar-a-Lago. In her time presiding over the case, Cannon, a Trump appointee confirmed in 2020, has drawn criticism over rulings that legal experts have seen as showing unusual solicitude to the former president.
Cannon initially included more than 100 documents marked as classified in the special master review, preventing the Justice Department from accessing them as part of its criminal investigation into the handling of government records found at Mar-a-Lago. But the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed that key portion of her ruling, with a three-judge panel embracing the Justice Department's arguments that any further delay in reviewing the records would compromise national security and cause "irreparable harm" to the government and public.
In addition to tossing Dearie's demand for a sworn declaration, Cannon on Thursday extended the end date for the special master review from November 30 to December 16.
Dearie had suggested he could work on a more expedited schedule. But Trump's lawyers pushed back against that pace, arguing that it was too fast and that they could not find outside vendors to assist with the review that was willing to work on that timeline.
"This modest enlargement is necessary to permit adequate time for the Special Master's review and recommendations given the circumstances as they have evolved since entry of the Appointment Order," Cannon wrote.