The role that government screening teams play in criminal investigations

Former President Donald Trump’s request to appoint a special third-party master to review documents seized at Mar-a-Lago highlights the role government screening teams play in criminal investigations. While the search of Mar-a-Lago was extraordinary in many ways, the creation of a “screening team” with protocols approved by a magistrate was routine. Removing the bombastic rhetoric from his filing, Mr. Trump’s stated concern about the prosecution team’s access to confidential documents is also typical.

When the government executes a search warrant and seizes documents that may include material protected by solicitor-client privilege or the work product doctrine, the government typically forms a “corruption team” or a “screening team to prevent the prosecution team from gaining access to privileged material. The team, which includes lawyers and others, plays no part in the investigation. The screening team reviews the documents, determines which documents should be eliminated as potentially privileged, and can decide whether these potentially privileged documents qualify for protection or should instead be turned over to the prosecution team.

Mark M. Gagnon