Court Appears Ready to End Special Master Review in Trump Files Inquiry

It just is looking like the folks on the Supreme Court, especially the ones nominated by the former President, do not want to project any appearance of being politicized in their decisions regarding him. 

It just means it is likely that his normal genius at deflecting trouble will be severely tested over the coming months.

It must be remembered, however, that all these charges against him are just that, ie: charges! In the U.S., citizens charged with crimes of any kind are innocent until proven guilty. The drama is easy to speculate on, about what results may be, It will certainly be closely watched by many.

Two of the three judges had already expressed skepticism about a court’s intervention after the F.B.I. seized records from the ex-president’s home.

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Court Appears Ready to End Special Master Review in Trump Files Inquiry

The US court of appeals for the 11th circuit appeared inclined on Tuesday to agree with the justice department to potentially curtail the special master review of documents the FBI seized from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence for potential privilege protections.

Court Appears Ready to End Special Master Review in Trump Files Inquiry

The result of the hearing is consequential for Trump: should he lose, it could mark the end of the special master process on which he has relied to delay, and gain more insight into, the investigation surrounding his potential mishandling of national security information.

The three-judge panel – led by chief appellate judge William Pryor – did not issue a ruling from the bench in Atlanta, Georgia, but appeared skeptical that Trump should get special treatment and be able to undercut a criminal investigation because of his status as a former president.

Trump had started the afternoon hearing with the disadvantage that the other two judges on the panel, Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher, had previously said in a related appeal that the Trump-appointed US judge Aileen Cannon had “abused her discretion” in granting the special master, who is reviewing the materials the FBI seized.

The fundamental question, Pryor said in court, was whether it was appropriate for the judicial branch to interfere in an executive branch investigation if there was not some extraordinary circumstance.

Pryor asked Trump’s lawyer Jim Trusty whether he thought the FBI’s seizure of documents from Mar-a-Lago was potentially unlawful, and, if the seizure was not unlawful, whether they had found any other case in which the target of a search warrant got an injunction.

“It has to be extraordinary,” Pryor said, adding that there seemed nothing unusual in this case other than the fact that Trump was a former president.

Trusty argued that Trump’s status as a former president was precisely why the case was extraordinary and warranted the appointment of a special master, as well as suggesting that the Trump legal team had at least suspected that the seizure was potentially unlawful.

But Pryor appeared unconvinced, exclaiming: “If you can’t establish that, what are we even doing here?”

The department also argued at the hearing that the 11th circuit should terminate the injunction preventing federal investigators from examining the documents under review by the special master, as Cannon had misapplied the four-part Richey test used to make her judgement.

At issue is the original rationale for the special master. Cannon determined Trump failed to satisfy the first Richey test – whether he suffered “callous disregard” to his constitutional rights when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago – but granted Trump’s request since she felt he met additional tests.

The department – echoing the 11th circuit’s own reasoning in an earlier appeal – has said Trump’s failure to satisfy that callous disregard standard alone should have resulted in the denial of the request, though the former president’s legal team contested that interpretation.

But even if Cannon had correctly applied Richey, the department has argued, she was wrong to prevent it from accessing the materials under review.

The injunction was handed down on the basis that if Trump was able to show that a proportion of documents were protected by executive or attorney-client privilege, then they could not be part of the evidence cache obtained by federal investigators in the event of prosecution.

Yet in the course of the special master process, the department has noted, Trump’s lawyers have claimed the documents were not so much privileged, but personal. If that was true, the trouble for Trump is that then they would have been lawfully seized in the FBI search.

Trump requested the appointment of a special master to examine the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago – including 103 bearing classified markings – shortly after the 8 August search because, his lawyers claimed at the time, some of the materials could be subject to privilege protections.

The request was granted by Cannon, who gave exceptional deference to Trump on account of his status as a former president in deciding that he satisfied the four-part Richey test, and temporarily barred the department from using the seized materials in its criminal investigation.

But the department appealed part of Cannon’s order to the 11th circuit, which sided with the government and ordered the 103 documents marked classified to be excluded from the special master review and returned to investigators, criticizing Cannon for granting the review in the first place.

That prompted Trump to unsuccessfully appeal to the supreme court – while the department then appealed the entirety of the special master order, incorporating the 11th circuit’s rulings and its scathing rebuke of Cannon as having “abused her discretion” in court filings.

“This court has already granted the government’s motion to stay that unprecedented order insofar as it relates to the documents bearing classification markings,” the department wrote in an October filing. “The court should now reverse the order in its entirety for multiple independent reasons.”

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Court Appears Ready to End Special Master Review in Trump Files Inquiry

Court Appears Ready to End Special Master Review in Trump Files Inquiry

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Colombo Family Crime Boss and 12 Others Are Arrested, Prosecutors Say

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday accuses the organization of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort a labor union.

Credit…Jesse Ward


For two decades, the leadership of the Colombo crime family extorted a Queens labor union, federal prosecutors said — an effort that continued unabated even as members of the mob clan cycled through prison, the family’s notorious longtime boss died, and as federal law enforcement closed in.

Over time, what began as a Colombo captain’s shakedown of a union leader, complete with expletive-laced threats of violence, expanded into a cottage industry, prosecutors said, as the Colombo organization assumed control of contracting and union business, with side operations in phony construction certificates, marijuana trafficking and loan-sharking.

On Tuesday, 11 reputed members and associates of the Colombo crime family, including the mob clan’s entire leadership, were charged in a labor racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

All but two of the men were arrested Tuesday morning across New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. Another was surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday; another defendant, identified as the family consigliere, remained at large, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the Colombo family of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort an unnamed labor union that represented construction workers, using threats of violence to secure payments and arrange contracts that would benefit the crime family.

The charges are an ambitious effort by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take down one of the city’s five Mafia families. In addition to the union extortion scheme, which is the heart of the racketeering charge, the indictment charges several misdeeds often associated with the mob, including drug trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking and falsifying federal labor safety paperwork.

Detention hearings for the defendants in Brooklyn federal court continued into the evening Tuesday, as they entered not-guilty pleas to the charges; prosecutors had asked the court to keep 10 of the defendants in custody.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,” Michael J. Driscoll, F.B.I. assistant director-in-charge, said in a statement. “The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.”

Around 2001, prosecutors said, Vincent Ricciardo — a reported captain in the family, also known as “Vinny Unions” — began to demand a portion of a senior labor union official’s salary. When Mr. Ricciardo was convicted and imprisoned on federal racketeering charges in the mid-2000s, prosecutors said, his cousin continued to collect those payments.

Starting in late 2019, prosecutors said, the senior leadership of the Colombo family became directly involved in the shakedown, which extended to broader efforts to siphon money from the union: for example, manipulating the selection of union health fund vendors to contract with entities connected to the family, and diverting more than $10,000 each month from the fund to the family.

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Andrew Russo, 87, who prosecutors describe as the family boss, is accused of taking part in those efforts, as well as a money-laundering scheme to send the proceeds of the union extortion through intermediaries to Colombo associates. He was among nine defendants charged with racketeering.

Mr. Russo appeared in court virtually from the hospital Tuesday; he is set to be detained upon his release, pending a future bail hearing.

The family’s infamous longtime boss, Carmine J. Persico, died in federal custody in North Carolina in March 2019.

Federal law enforcement learned of the extortion scheme about a year ago, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday; investigators gathered thousands of hours of wiretapped calls and conversations recorded by a confidential witness, wrote the prosecutors, who also described law-enforcement surveillance of meetings among the accused conspirators.

The authorities said they repeatedly captured Mr. Ricciardo and his associates threatening to kill the union official. “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids,” Mr. Ricciardo was recorded saying in June.

On another occasion cited by prosecutors in the memo seeking his detention, Mr. Ricciardo directed the union official to hire a consultant selected by the Colombo family, saying: “It’s my union and that’s it.” Prosecutors said his activities were overseen by a Colombo soldier and the consigliere who remains at large.

Much of the activity outlined in the indictment took place while the defendants were either in prison or on supervised release for prior federal mob-related convictions. Theodore Persico Jr., described as a family captain and soldier, was released from federal prison in 2020 and, despite a directive not to associate with members of organized crime, “directed much of the labor racketeering scheme,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Persico, 58, is set to inherit the role of boss after Mr. Russo, prosecutors wrote.

Several of the defendants were named in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent safety training scheme, in which they falsified state and federal paperwork that is required for construction workers to show they have completed safety training courses.

One of the defendants, John Ragano — whom prosecutors say is a soldier in the Bonanno crime family — is accused of setting up phony occupational safety training schools in New York, which prosecutors said were “mills” that provided fraudulent safety training certificates to hundreds of people.

In October 2020, prosecutors said, an undercover law enforcement officer visited one of the schools in Ozone Park, Queens, and received, from Mr. Ricciardo’s cousin, a blank test form and an answer sheet; weeks later, the agent returned to pick up his federal safety card and paid $500.

The purported schools were also used for meetings with members of La Cosa Nostra — the group of crime families commonly known as the Mafia — and to store illegal drugs and fireworks, according to the indictment.

Mr. Ragano wasn’t charged on the racketeering count, although prosecutors also sought his detention pending trial. In addition to the racketeering count, several defendants, including Mr. Ricciardo and his cousin, were charged with extortion, conspiracy, fraud and conspiracy to make false statements.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people identified in an indictment as members of the Colombo crime family. It is 11, not more than a dozen.