After granting the former president’s legal team’s request this week for an impartial arbitrator to review the documents found during an FBI search of his Florida property last month, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has come under heavy fire.
As part of an investigation into Trump’s improper retention of sensitive information from the White House, Cannon on Monday permitted an outside legal expert to examine the documents seized during the Mar-a-Lago search on August 8. The expert could exclude any information that might be covered by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege assertions.
The Justice Department vehemently objected to the order, claiming that a so-called special master was not required because officials had already finished their examination of potentially privileged documents.
Trump supporters who wanted to put a stop to the investigation by the government applauded the action. Others, however, contend that Cannon unnecessarily delayed some Justice Department investigations and showed excessive deference to the former president. They assert that she has slowed the progress of the federal inquiry into potential violations of the Espionage Act.
The Justice Department has not stated whether it will appeal. Still, there are several reasons why it may not be eager to do so, such as worry that it could further stall the investigation or result in case law deemed unfavorable for subsequent studies. Said the former federal prosecutor and Los Angeles defense lawyer Brandon Fox. Regardless, he claimed that Cannon’s viewpoint gives the impression that there are “two systems of justice.”
According to Fox, the criminal justice system is set up to ensure that everyone is held to the same accountability standards for alleged crimes they have committed. Due to his status as a former president, “it appears that Mr. Trump is getting special benefit” in this instance. William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, said the opinion was “deeply flawed in some ways” on Tuesday on Fox News.
Cannon, a little-known federal judge Trump appointed to the bench two years ago, made Monday’s decision easily the most important of her career. It placed the former federal prosecutor, of Colombian descent, in the middle of a heated legal argument about the limitations of executive privilege and presidential authority.
Cannon is the youngest federal judge assigned to the Southern District of Florida, where Trump appointed five of the district’s 16 active judges. Cases like the special master request are, following court regulations, “assigned on a blind rotation basis… to a judge assigned to hear cases in the division to which the case has been assigned.”
Cannon worked primarily out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Fort Pierce, Florida, which is a part of the same federal district as Miami but is located about 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the north, for the majority of her roughly seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney. The cases there typically do not receive the same level of coverage as those in the Miami area’s more densely populated, media-heavy areas.
As a member of the Major Crimes Division, Cannon began prosecuting 41 cases in 2013. She later handled appeals of criminal convictions and sentences. One involved a defendant in a significant $800 million Ponzi scheme who tried to have his numerous fraud convictions overturned at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta but was unsuccessful.
Richard Klugh, a seasoned Miami defense lawyer who represented Cannon’s opponent in that case, called Cannon “very bright and talented” and said she was fair to the defense. Klugh stated, “I didn’t see anything I could characterize as anything other than good lawyering, and no political bias whatsoever,” adding that despite not having appeared in Cannon’s courtroom, he had worked on cases she handled as a federal judge.
She is renowned for holding fair hearings and processes. You appreciate hearing someone out,” he said. Cannon, born in Cali, Colombia, in 1981, moved to the United States as a young child and eventually earned a degree from Duke University in 2003. Her father worked in advertising throughout South and Latin America.
During her college years, Cannon contributed some articles to El Nuevo Herald, a newspaper in southern Florida that is written in Spanish and run by the Miami Herald. A list of Cannon’s articles given to the Senate Judiciary Committee indicates that she focused her writing on health and cultural issues.
Cannon worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Steven M. Colloton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2007. She then spent three years in private practice in Washington, D.C., with the renowned international law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.
During her 2020 Senate confirmation hearing, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California questioned Cannon in writing about whether she had “any discussions with anyone — including, but not limited to, individuals at the White House, at the Justice Department, or any outside groups — about loyalty to President Trump.” Cannon replied, “No.” Of course, being a judge appointed by Trump never ensures that he will decide cases in his favor.
For instance, in May, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly, appointed by Trump in 2017, rejected objections to the Republican National Committee’s practices and allowed the House panel looking into the January 6 Capitol riot to obtain the Republican National Committee’s marketing email data. Other Trump-nominated judges have sided with the panel’s conclusions. However, Cannon’s viewpoint in this matter and her musings on the potential “reputational harm” to Trump that could result from an indictment have brought new attention to her judicial background.
Cannon expressed some skepticism in her initial response to the special master request, asking the Trump campaign for more clarification on what they wanted her to do and why they believed she might have jurisdiction. Days later, however, she issued a new order, stating that while it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master, she would first give the Justice Department the chance to object.
Since 2005, Cannon has been a member of the Federalist Society, a group of conservative lawyers who have supported the Trump administration’s picks for the Supreme Court, including Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The then-prosecutor noted that her mother had to leave Cuba at the age of 7 to escape the oppressive Castro regime during her confirmation hearing in July 2020. Cannon said to her mother, “Thank you for teaching me about the blessing that is this country and the significance of maintaining the rule of law for future generations.