Trump probe: Court halts Mar-a-Lago special master’s review

WASHINGTON (AP) — A unanimous federal appeals court Thursday concluded an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information.

The three-judge panel’s decision represents a significant victory for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigations the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a- The needle. This also amounts to a sharp repudiation of the arguments of Trump’s lawyers, who for months had argued that the former president had the right to have a so-called “special master” conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents stolen from the property.

Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling was expected given skeptical questions judges asked a Trump attorney during last week’s arguments, and because two of the three panel judges had already ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier special commander dispute.

The decision was a unanimous opinion of the three-judge panel of Republican appointees, including two selected by Trump. In it, the court rejected every argument by Trump and his attorneys about why a special master was needed, including claims by him that the seized documents were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

“It is truly extraordinary that a warrant is being executed in the home of a former president, but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the justices wrote. .

The special principal litigation unfolded in parallel with an ongoing investigation examining potential criminal mishandling of national defense intelligence, as well as efforts to possibly obstruct such an investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland nominated Jack Smith last montha veteran corruption prosecutor, to serve as special counsel overseeing that investigation.

It’s unclear how long the investigation will last or who, if anyone, could be charged. But the investigation has shown signs of escalating, with investigators questioning several of Trump’s associates about the documents and granting immunity to a key ally to secure his testimony before a federal grand jury. And the appeals court’s decision is likely to speed up the investigation by halting external review of the documents.

The conflict over the special commander began just weeks after the FBI raid, when Trump sued in federal court in Florida asking for the appointment of an independent arbitrator to review the approximately 13,000 documents the Justice Department says were withdrawn. from the house.

A federal judge, Aileen Cannon, granted the Trump team’s request, appointing veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie as special master and instructing him to examine the seized documents and filter from the criminal investigation any documents that could be covered by claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

He also prevented the Justice Department from using all of the seized documents, including the approximately 100 with classification marks, in its criminal investigation until Dearie completed his job.

The Justice Department objected to the appointment, saying it was an unnecessary obstacle to its criminal investigation and saying Trump had no credible basis for invoking attorney-client privilege or executive privilege to protect documents from investigators.

He tried, as a first step, to regain access to the classified documents. A federal appeals panel sided with prosecutors in September, allowing the Justice Department to resume reviewing documents with classification marks. Two of the judges on that panel — Andrew Brasher and Britt Grant, both Trump appointees — were also part of Thursday’s ruling.

The department also insisted on unrestricted access to the much larger hoard of unclassified documents, saying those documents could contain evidence important to their investigations.

In its ruling on Thursday, the court ordered Cannon to dismiss the lawsuit that gave rise to Dearie’s nomination and suggested that Trump had no legal basis to contest the search in the first place.

“The law is clear. We can’t write a rule that allows any object of a search warrant to block government investigations after the warrant has been executed. Nor can we write a rule that only allows former presidents to do so,” the justices wrote.

“Either approach,” they added, “would be a radical reordering of our jurisprudence that would limit the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations. And both would violate the fundamental limits of the separation of powers.


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