WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Wednesday restored the Justice Department’s access to secret-marked documents seized last month from former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence, handing a victory to federal investigators in their attempt to investigate Mr Trump’s hoarding. sensitive government documents.
In a strongly worded 29-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked part of an order from a federal judge that had temporarily barred the department from using the classified materials in its investigation into whether Mr. Trump illegal national defense documents and hindered the government’s repeated attempts to get them back.
The Department of Justice “claims that the court likely erred in exercising its jurisdiction to require the United States to use the classified documents in its criminal investigation and to require the United States to review the marked classified documents for to a special captain,” wrote a panel of three judges. “We agree.”
The panel consisted of two Trump appointees—Judges Britt Grant and Andrew L. Brasher—and Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum, an Obama appointee.
The dispute arose after Judge Aileen M. Cannon, also an appointee of Mr. Trump, installed an outside arbitrator known as a special master to filter the more than 11,000 documents seized in the search for potentially privileged documents. . She also banned criminal investigators from using the material until the review was complete, and she rejected the Justice Department’s request to exempt about 100 records classified as classified from that process.
In its first filing with the Court of Appeals, the department accepted the Special Master’s review of all documents except those with classification markings, and carefully modified its request in the hope of gaining quick access to the material at the heart of its investigation. forms. Prosecutors argued that Judge Cannon’s temporary injunction from letting them use the classified material would impede a separate assessment by the intelligence community of the risks Mr. Trump’s hoarding of the data posed to national security.
The appeals court decision was a striking rejection of Mr Trump’s attempts to publicly, but not in court, allege that he had released the sensitive data in question.
Mr Trump “suggests that he may have released these documents when he was president,” the appeals court wrote. “But the record contains no evidence that any of these records have been released.”
The court went on to say, “In any case, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring, because releasing an official document wouldn’t change its contents or make it personal.”
The ruling would simplify the process now underway for the special master, Judge Raymond J. Dearie, who had been recommended by Mr. Trump’s lawyers for the role. If it persists, Judge Dearie will no longer have to review the classified material and can turn his attention to the larger hoard of 11,000 unclassified records.
Mr Trump “has not even attempted to demonstrate that he needs the information contained in the classified documents,” the appeals court wrote. He also has not established that the current government has waived that requirement for these documents. And even if he had, that in itself would not explain why Plaintiff has an individual interest in the classified documents.”
The ruling came the same day the New York Attorney General indicted Mr. Trump following a separate civil investigation into what she described as fraudulent business practices.
The ruling was the latest twist in what began as a legal sideshow of Mr Trump’s investigation into hoarding government documents, including some marked as highly classified.
In mid-August, Mr. Trump’s legal team filed a lawsuit requesting that the Justice Department be blocked from working with the documents. His attorneys also requested a special master with extended authority to review the documents for documents that may have been protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
But the FBI had already conducted a separate review to identify files that could fall under attorney-client privilege. And Mr Trump’s demand for a major overhaul, a subject subject to executive privilege claims, was unusual, prosecutors said, noting that there was no precedent or legal basis for it. But Judge Cannon granted Mr Trump’s request.
Judge Cannon has ordered Judge Dearie to first examine classification-marked documents and make recommendations on material that Mr. Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department may disagree with.
Part of that process would mean that Mr. Trump’s lawyers themselves would have to see the documents to determine whether they are government or personal property and whether they may be privileged.
But during a hearing before Judge Dearie on Tuesday, lawyers for both sides disagreed over whether Mr. Trump’s legal team should see the files.
A Justice Department lawyer said some of the files were so limited that top-secret permissions alone wouldn’t be enough to access them.
“Some of the documents are so sensitive that even members of the team investigating possible criminal offenses here have not yet been given permission to view these documents,” said attorney Julie Edelstein.
Another point of contention was whether Judge Dearie could demand that Mr. Trump or his representatives definitively indicate whether he took action to release the materials.
Mr Trump has publicly claimed that he released everything he stole from the Oval Office, but no credible evidence has come forward to support that claim and his representatives have not repeated it in court, where it is a crime to lie. Instead, they have merely suggested that Mr Trump may have done this.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued that it would be premature to disclose such information at this stage, as it could be a defense if Mr. Trump were to be charged later.
But the 11th Circuit’s decision to remove the documents marked as classified from the special master’s review means Judge Dearie doesn’t have to address either dispute for now.
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