'Legal equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride': Why Donald Trump's special master is unlikely to save him
Donald Trump (AFP)

On Labor Day 2022, Judge Aileen M. Cannon granted former President Donald Trump his request to appoint a special master to review the documents that FBI agents took from his Mar-a-Lago compound when they executed a search warrant on Monday, August 8. Cannon’s decision has inspired a variety of reactions, some positive and some negative.

Some of Trump’s critics believe that Cannon’s decision was unwarranted, while some of the former president’s MAGA defenders have applauded the decision as an act of fairness — even though they also believe the August 8 search shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Meanwhile, San Diego-based attorney Chris Truax, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on September 7, offers some reasons why Cannon’s decision could be bad for Trump and his legal team.

“On balance, Judge Cannon’s order granting Trump a special master is probably a good thing,” Truax argues. “If you’re a guilty defendant, the very worst judge you can get is the one who goes out of his or her way to make sure that you get all the due process you are entitled to — and then some. An excess of fairness makes a conviction that much harder to overturn on appeal. And something like this rule also holds for the court of public opinion.”

Truax continues, “If Trump is going to be prosecuted, it is imperative for all sorts of reasons that he be given every opportunity to defend himself. His hardcore supporters will complain about anything short of canonization, much less a criminal prosecution.”

A special master is an independent legal arbiter in a case. Cleveland-based attorney David R. Cohen, himself a special master, told the Washington Post, “It’s a fancy term for judge’s helper.”

Truax compares the events in court leading up to Cannon’s decision to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, one of the attractions at Disneyland in Anaheim, California south of Los Angeles.

“Former President Donald Trump’s legal action in federal court complaining about the search of Mar-a-Lago has been the legal equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: a constantly moving target of screwups, strange arguments, and eye-popping judicial actions,” Truax writes. “On Monday, however, Judge Aileen Cannon issued an order that brings a little clarity to the situation — though certainly not closure.”

The FBI agents who searched Mar-a-Lago on August 8 were looking for classified government documents that should have remained in Washington, D.C. when Trump left the White House in January 2021 — not been stored on his private property. According to the Washington Post, some of the documents the agents were searching for pertained to nuclear weapons.

Unlike some Trump critics, Truax doesn’t believe that the appointment of a special master is unfair to federal investigators in the case. If anything, Truax views it as helpful to investigators.

“There is a critical segment of people who might not follow the detailed twists and turns of Donald Trump’s brushes with the law but want to know that he is being treated fairly,” Truax observes. “So, let Donald Trump have his special master. If the Mar-a-Lago raid results in a conviction for Trump, it won’t be because the government relied on letters from his lawyer or documents covered by ‘executive privilege.’ It will be because Trump looted official government records and kept a stack of top-secret documents in his basement.”