What is a special master? Did Donald Trump ask for one to investigate him - what is the decision?

FBI agents raided Mar-a-Lago in August of this year

A US appeal court has overturned the decision to allow an independent lawyer to lead the investigation into documents recovered from Donald Trump’s Florida estate.

Federal agents raided the Mar-a-Lago estate on 8 August. The FBI said it removed over 100 classified documents from the former president’s residence.

The Justice department had appealed a decision to appoint a special master, an independent lawyer, to oversee the investigation. The case was heard by a US federal appeals court this week.

Here is all you need to know:

What is a special master?

President Trump had demanded a special master, which is when a special counsel is appointed to lead an independent investigation. He or she must come from outside the government.

A special master has the power to prosecute, if necessary, anyone suspected of crimes. Trump had asked for one to lead the investigation into documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Has a special master been appointed?

CNN reports that Attorney General Merrick Garland had appointed a special counsel to lead the investivation into “the retention of national defense information at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection”. However the Justice department had appealed the decision, saying it was delaying its criminal investigation.

Donald Trump appears to be the epitome of everything Scottish politicians do not want to be (Picture: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

What have the courts said about the special master?

A US federal appeals court has ended an independent review of documents seized from Donald Trump’s Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information. The decision by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago on 8 August.

It also amounts to a sharp repudiation of arguments by the former president’s lawyers, who for months had said that he was entitled to have a so-called “special master” conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from the property.

Why is Donald Trump being investigated?

Upon leaving office, presidents must transfer all of their documents and emails to the National Archives. The FBI is investigating whether or not Trump improperly handled records by taking them from the White House when he left office in January 2021.

The investigation began in January 2022, when a National Archives team visited Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s residence in Palm Beach, Florida, and retrieved 15 boxes containing 148 classified documents. Some of these were “intermixed with other records”, and others even contained Trump’s “handwritten notes”.

In June, Trump’s representatives claimed they had conducted a “diligent search” to find any other top secret material - and claimed it had all been returned. However, the FBI once again returned to Mar-a-Lago on 8 August - this time searching the property as prosecutors believed the former president still possessed “dozens” of boxes “likely to contain classified information”.

In the search on 8 August, the FBI said it removed over 100 classified documents from the former president’s residence. Agents found documents both in the storage room, and in Trump’s office desk. Some of the classified material reportedly contained information about nuclear weapons.