New reporting reveals how judge in Trump documents case benefits from Leo’s dark network

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, new reporting from The Guardian revealed that U.S. district court Judge Aileen Cannon, currently presiding over former President Trump’s criminal case for mishandling classified documents, is part of conservative kingpin Leonard Leo’s right-wing network. Cannon was gifted a luxury trip by the Leonard Leo-backed Scalia Law School — raising new questions about Leo’s decades-long efforts to curry favor with members of the American judiciary.

Leonard Leo has written the playbook on judicial influence-peddling. It’s no surprise that Judge Cannon has benefited from Leo’s well-funded network. Over decades, Leo has used shady tactics to curry favor with judges at all levels in service of his ultimate goal: to force an extreme, radical agenda on Americans.

Ultimately, it calls into question the judge’s impartiality and who she’s serving. Is she serving the American people or is she serving Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society?”

Accountable.US senior advisor Kyle Herrig

The Guardian revealed that Cannon accepted a 2021 trip to a Montana luxury resort from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, for which Leo brokered at least $30 million in donations to rename the school after Justice Antonin Scalia —and where Leo has been “directly involved” in hiring decisions. Nine speakers at the lavish event were Federalist Society contributors, including three federal circuit judges. Leonard Leo is a longtime Federalist Society leader, previously serving as its executive vice president and now, its co-chair.

In 2021 alone, the George Mason University Foundation, which manages the school’s private gifts and endowment, took over $5 million from Donors Trust, the “dark money ATM of the right.” Donors Trust is an integral part of Leo’s network, having raked in a portion of a massive $59 million donation from Leo’s Marble Freedom Trust in 2020. Over $368,000 was earmarked for the Scalia Law School’s Law and Economics Center, which ran Judge Cannon’s luxury trip.

Judge Cannon has multiple other close ties to conservative kingpin Leonard Leo’s dark network:

  • Cannon served as a law clerk for conservative eighth circuit Judge Steven Colloton, a Federalist Society contributor who was among a “half-dozen” potential Supreme Court nominees on Trump’s short list, which Leonard Leo “wrote.”
  • Cannon was an associate attorney for Gibson Dunn, a law firm that has given at least $750,000 to the Federalist Society since 2006. Prominent Gibson Dunn partner and former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson wrote a Politico opinion piece defending the Federalist Society.

Judge Cannon has garnered controversy following her latest pro-Trump rulings, leading legal experts to accuse her of showing “ignorance” and “bias.” Cannon, a Trump appointee, previously came under fire for her “lawless,” pro-Trump rulings challenging the FBI’s seizure of materials from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property. Critics have called for the case to be reassigned due to Cannon’s history of controversial rulings in other cases involving Trump.

As The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt writes, “it wasn’t just that Trump had appointed Cannon, who has since made rulings which would appear to help his defense. It was that Cannon was from an emerging rightwing cadre of the judiciary – a cabal of conservative judges created by Leonard Leo, the ultimate Republican kingmaker and a close Trump ally. Those links between Cannon and a network of figures and groups on the right and far-right of US politics are coming under increasing scrutiny as the Trump case moves forwards but also because they show the very real impact of Leo and his actions on the US judiciary.”

Learn more about Leonard Leo’s dark network and extreme agenda at

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