Appeals court orders end of special review process in Trump documents case

Washington – A three-judge federal appeals court in Atlanta decided that the special primary review process that oversaw the Justice Department’s use of unclassified evidence gathered earlier this year at Donald Trump’s Florida residence must be stopped.

The unanimous ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed a decision by Judge Aileen Cannon, a federal judge from Florida who accepted Trump’s request for the review and determined semi-retired federal judge Raymond Dearie of New York as an independent arbitrator, or special gentlemanto search the documents for any that may be subject to privilege claims by the former president.

That ruling also barred investigators from using the roughly 13,000 documents obtained from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort, during the execution of a search warrant on August 8 for research purposes. A special one decision of the court of appeal since September allowed the Justice Department to use more than 100 classified documents it seized for its investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of sensitive documents, and Thursday’s subsequent ruling gives the government full access to the evidence.

Trump can now ask the full 11th Circuit to rehear the case or appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Former President Donald Trump applauds while speaking at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, on November 15, 2022.

ALON SKUY/AFP via Getty Images

“The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the warrant is executed. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so,” Chief Judge William Pryor and Judges Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said in their 23-page opinion. “Either approach would be a radical reordering of our case law limiting the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations. Both would violate the fundamental limitations of the separation of powers.”

Pryor was appointed to the 11th Circuit by former President George W. Bush, while Grant and Brasher were named by Trump.

The opinion from the 11th Circuit vacates Cannon’s order appointing the special master and sends the case back to the lower court with instructions to dismiss it.

“This appeal requires us to consider whether the district court had jurisdiction to prevent the United States from using lawfully seized records in a criminal investigation,” the justices wrote. “The answer is no.”

Trump first asked Cannon to appoint a special master to review the seized documents in late August, two weeks after the FBI conducted a search of his Mar-a-Lago office and warehouse. Prosecutors say they are conducting a national security investigation into these and other sensitive documents recovered from the Florida resort after Trump left office and possible obstruction of that investigation.

In issuing her original order appointing the special master, Cannon wrote that Trump faced “unfair potential harm through the improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” but that criminal investigators rarely — if ever — release seized evidence unless they are indicted. criminally. are archived. The Justice Department has repeatedly argued that the entire process was premature and unnecessary.

The former president’s legal team said Cannon’s order to appoint a special master was unfeasible and argued that Trump considered the records he brought to Mar-a-Lago “personal” while still in office, a designation allowed under the Presidential Records Act. (PRA).

“It is simply untenable to conclude that any president can be prosecuted for exercising the unlimited rights set forth in the PRA to classify certain documents as “personal” during that president’s term,” the 11th Circuit said.

But the 11th Circuit noted that even if Trump did qualify the document as “personal,” search warrants allow for the seizure of such records.

“As we have said, a document’s status as personal or presidential does not alter the government’s authority to seize it under a warrant supported by probable cause,” the justices wrote.

Claims of attorney-client privilege have mostly been settled by both parties, but Trump has argued that some of the seized records belong to him in his personal capacity as the former president. His legal team said the documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago should be considered “presumptively privileged” by the courts and protected from criminal investigation until an independent review is completed.

Throughout the appeal, prosecutors remained opposed to Trump’s reading of the law, writing in part that he cannot assert executive privilege to block the executive branch’s own review of executive documents. The Justice Department also argued that Cannon overreached when she issued the September order barring the FBI from using the seized material for investigative purposes.

A three-judge panel heard oral arguments in the dispute last week, during which appeared open in the Justice Department’s position that Cannon improperly appointed the special master to review the seized documents and erred in issuing her order.

Thursday’s decision comes after Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of government records, as well as the department’s investigation into his efforts to overturn the results of 2020 presidential elections.

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