Judge Aileen Cannon: Trump’s request for ‘special master’ puts one of his judicial appointees in the spotlight


Now-Judge Aileen Cannon appears virtually before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2020.

(CNN)Former President Donald Trump’s request for a “special master” to oversee the review of evidence gathered in the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago estate has thrust one of his own judicial appointees into the middle of his latest legal and political drama.

District Court Judge Aileen Cannon in the Southern District of Florida, who was nominated by Trump to the bench in 2020, is handling the former President’s request for the special master, a third-party attorney who would filter out privileged material seized in the search.

Cannon has put both Trump’s team and the Justice Department on notice that she had a “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master, though she cautioned that it should not be construed as her final decision on the matter. A hearing is set for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

    She was nominated to her post by Trump in May 2020 and the Senate confirmed her by a vote of 56-21 just days after the presidential election.

      Aileen Cannon appears virtually before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2020.

      Prior to taking office, Cannon served as an assistant US attorney in Florida, where she worked in the Major Crimes Division and as an appellate attorney, according to written answers she gave to the Senate during her confirmation process.

        Following graduation from University of Michigan Law School, Cannon clerked for a federal judge and later practiced law at a firm in Washington, DC, where she handled a range of cases, including some related to “government investigations,” according to her statements given to the Senate in 2020.

        Before fielding questions at a confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cannon, whose mother fled communist Cuba, thanked members of her family and shared the impact of their experience on her on life.

          “To my loving mother … who, at the age of 7, had to flee the repressive Castro regime in search of freedom and security, thank you for teaching me about the blessing that is this country and the importance of securing the rule of law for generations to come,” she said.

          Already, Cannon is facing some criticism for how she’s handled the Trump case. Last week, she identified several shortcomings in Trump’s initial request for more oversight for the FBI’s review of the evidence seized and asked him to elaborate on the ask. Though his new response filed on Friday appeared to fall short of the elaboration she was seeking, observers have argued that she was being overly generous when she essentially gave his team a second chance to ask for the special master.

          Here's what a 'special master' is and what it means for the Mar-a-Lago investigation

            Cannon has three distinct choices in the case, Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe told CNN in a statement. “She could either redeem herself by starting to act like a real federal judge unaffected by the identity of the president who appointed her, or earn the condemnation of national security experts and legal mavens by botching the biggest case most judges ever touch in a lifetime and endangering the lives of our spies abroad,” he said.

            The judge could also “leave matters in the state of confusion created by her strange interim order,” Tribe said, referring to her Saturday order in which she said she was poised to grant Trump’s request.

            CNN’s Jeremy Herb, Tierney Sneed, Marshall Cohen, Evan Perez and Sara Murray contributed to this report.