The following editorial originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
A federal judge issued a ruling on Labor Day that is, unfortunately, no longer surprising even though it should be shocking to all but the most MAGA-blinded Americans.
Judge Aileen Cannon, a Donald Trump appointee, ruled that executive privilege might apply in the case of the government-owned documents that the ex-president unlawfully secreted away to his Mar-a-Lago lair. She also ruled that the criminal probe of Trump must stop pending the appointment of a special master to sift out potentially privileged documents that are part of a trove that Trump unlawfully kept after leaving office.
Cannon’s ruling handed Trump a major, albeit undeserved, victory in his effort to delay the Justice Department’s criminal inquiry.
Trump is trying hard to demonstrate his ongoing relevance ahead of the November midterm elections, and by allowing him to delay the criminal investigation, Cannon helps Trump avoid more embarrassments that could make voters think twice about the extremists he is supporting. The judge justified her ruling by citing the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding this case. Given the context of her ruling, she might actually be asserting that, in fact, some people are above the law.
Trump nominated Cannon in May 2020 and the Senate confirmed her nine days after Trump’s election loss. Experts from across the political spectrum say her ruling makes no sense on legal grounds and smacks heavily of political bias.
Paul Rosenzweig, who served in the George W. Bush administration and helped investigate President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater probe, told CNN that the ruling was “silly” and “quite unmoored from practicality.” By stopping Justice Department investigators from accessing the seized documents, Cannon effectively grants injunctive relief to an alleged criminal as law enforcers are closing in on him.
“Enjoining the ongoing criminal investigation is simply untenable,” Rosenzweig told The New York Times. A wide range of other legal experts have chimed in similarly.
What’s doubly strange in this scenario is that Trump’s lawyers waited so long to seek this ruling, granting Justice Department investigators ample time to go through all of the seized documents and make their determination of whether a criminal case against the ex-president or his advisers could be made. Halting the probe at this point serves little legal purpose other than to buy time for Trump — again casting a pall of political bias on what should be an objective judicial review.
Cannon always had the option of granting the request for a special master while allowing the criminal probe to proceed. She opted against it, setting a dangerous legal precedent that could come back to bite law enforcers around the country in their hot pursuit of wrongdoers.