In Washington, A three-judge federal appeals court panel in Atlanta found that the Justice Department’s use of non-classified evidence gathered earlier this year at Donald Trump’s Florida home was subject to special master review, which must come to an end.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit unanimously overturned Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to grant Trump’s request for a review and appointed semi-retired federal Judge Raymond Dearie of New York as an independent arbiter, or special master, to comb through the documents for any that might be covered by the former president’s claims of privilege.
In addition, that ruling prohibited investigators from using the nearly 13,000 documents collected from Trump’s property Mar-a-Lago on August 8 for any kind of investigation.
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The Justice Department was granted access to the evidentiary record on Thursday as a result of a separate appeals court decision from September that allowed the government full access to the evidence. The Justice Department had seized more than 100 documents with classified markings for its investigation into Trump’s alleged improper handling of sensitive documents.
Now that the issue has been heard by the entire 11th Circuit, Trump has the option of appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court. The ruling of the panel, according to Trump spokeswoman Steven Cheung, was “procedural and based entirely on jurisdiction.”
The ruling, according to Cheung’s statement, “does not address the merits that clearly reveal the improperness of the extraordinary, illegal, and unnecessary raid on Mar-a-Lago.” However, it was made plain in the decision of the 11th Circuit that the execution of the search warrant — the “raid” — was lawful.
According to the judgment, the Justice Department “submitted a Florida magistrate judge’s sworn declaration of an FBI agent, who concurred that probable cause existed to suspect that evidence of criminal breaches would likely be found at Mar-a-Lago.”
Cheung continued, “President Donald J. Trump will continue to stand up for America and Americans while fighting against the weaponized Department of “Justice.” Although no court has found any proof of this, Trump and his allies have regularly accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of using the Justice Department as a weapon against Republicans.
“Law is unambiguous. Any person who is the subject of a search warrant cannot be given the authority to obstruct government investigations after the order has been executed.
We also cannot create a law restricting this to only former presidents “In their 23-page judgment, Chief Judge William Pryor and Judges Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher stated. “Either strategy would require a major reorganization of our case law, which currently limits the involvement of the federal courts in criminal investigations. And both would go against fundamental restrictions on the separation of powers.”
While Trump appointed Grant and Brasher to the 11th Circuit, prior President George W. Bush appointed Pryor. The 11th Circuit’s judgment nullifies Cannon’s order appointing the special master and remands the matter to the lower court with a directive to dismiss it.
The judges stated in their ruling that “our appeal asks us to evaluate whether the district court has jurisdiction to prevent the United States from using lawfully seized documents in a criminal investigation.” “No,” was the response.
Two weeks after the FBI searched Cannon’s Mar-a-Lago office and storage space, Trump initially ordered Cannon to name a special master to examine the confiscated materials in late August. Authorities claim to be looking into possible obstruction of justice in relation to those and other private documents that were taken from the Florida resort after Trump left office.
Criminal investigators hardly ever—if ever—release seized evidence to the public unless criminal charges are filed, despite Cannon’s claim that Trump faced “inequitable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public” in her original order appointing the special master. The Justice Department has maintained that the entire procedure was premature and unnecessary on numerous occasions.
The former president’s legal team asserted that the Presidential Records Act permitted Trump to designate the documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago as “personal” while he was still in office and therefore Cannon’s order appointing a special master was not appealable (PRA).
They said in submissions to the 11th Circuit that “it is simply impossible to assume that any president may be vulnerable to a criminal indictment for utilizing the unrestricted rights provided forth in the PRA to classify particular records as “personal” while that president was in office.
However, the 11th Circuit pointed out that search warrants permit the collection of such documents even if Trump did label the paper as “personal.” As we have previously stated, a document’s status as personal or presidential has no bearing on the government’s ability to take it in accordance with a warrant backed by probable cause.
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Attorney-client privilege disputes have largely been settled between the parties, but Trump asserted that some of the materials confiscated belong to him personally as the former president. According to his legal team, the court must treat the records he carried to Mar-a-Lago as “presumptively protected” and keep them out of the criminal probe up until the conclusion of the independent review.
Prosecutors disputed Trump’s interpretation of the law throughout the appeal, claiming in part that he could not use executive privilege to prevent the executive branch from reviewing its own papers. The Justice Department further asserted that when Cannon issued her injunction in September prohibiting the FBI from using the confiscated materials for investigative purposes, she went beyond her authority.
Last week, a three-judge court heard oral arguments in the case, and they seemed receptive to the Justice Department’s contention that Cannon made mistakes in appointing the special master to examine the confiscated records and in issuing her injunction.
The decision on Thursday follows the appointment of a special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland last month to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into President Trump’s handling of government records as well as the department’s investigation into his attempts to tamper with the results of the 2020 presidential election.
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