Washington – A three-judge panel in the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled that thewho oversaw the Justice Department’s use of unclassified evidence collected earlier this year at Donald Trump’s Florida residence must end.
The unanimous decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed the decision of Judge Aileen Cannon, a Florida federal judge whofor the exam and semi-retired federal judge Raymond Dearie of New York as an independent arbitrator, or to sift through the documents for anything that might be the subject of claims of privilege by the former president.
The move also barred investigators from using the approximately 13,000 documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort, during thefor investigative purposes. A separate from September authorized the Justice Department to use more than 100 documents with classified marks it seized for its investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of sensitive documents, and Thursday’s subsequent decision grants the government a full access to the evidence file.
Trump can now ask the entire 11th Circuit to rehear the case or appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
In a statement, Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said the former president called the panel’s decision “procedural and based solely on jurisdiction.”
“The ruling does not address the merits that clearly demonstrate the impropriety of the unprecedented, illegal and unwarranted raid on Mar-a-Lago,” Cheung’s statement said.
But in fact, the 11th Circuit’s opinion made it clear that the execution of the search warrant – the “raid” – was legal.
The Justice Department “submitted an affidavit from an FBI agent to a Florida magistrate, who agreed that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of criminal offenses would likely be found at Mar-a -Lago,” the opinion reads.
“President Donald J. Trump will continue to fight against the armed ‘Justice’ Department while standing up for America and Americans,” Cheung added.
Trump and his allies have frequently accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of weaponizing the Justice Department against Republicans, though no court has found any evidence of it.
“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 only allows former presidents to do so,” Chief Justice William Pryor said. and Justices Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said in their 23-page opinion. “Either approach would be a sweeping reorganization of our jurisprudence limiting federal court involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate fundamental limits on the separation of powers.”
Pryor was nominated to the 11th Circuit by former President George W. Bush, while Grant and Brasher were nominated by Trump.
The 11th Circuit’s opinion overturns Cannon’s order appointing the special master and sends the case back to the lower court with instructions that it be dismissed.
“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 judges 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 raided his office and storage room at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors said they are conducting a national security investigation into those and other sensitive documents recovered from the Florida resort after Trump’s departure and the possible obstruction of that investigation.
When issuing his initial order appointing the special master, Cannon wrote that Trump faced “potential inequitable harm due to improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” but criminal investigators rarely — if ever — release. evidence seized from the public unless there are criminal charges. are deposited. The Department of Justice has repeatedly argued that the whole process was premature and unnecessary.
The former president’s legal team said Cannon’s order appointing a special master was not appealable and asserted that Trump viewed the records he brought to Mar-a-Lago as ” personnel” while still in office, a designation permitted under the Presidential Records Act. (PRA).
“It is simply untenable to conclude that a President can be criminally charged for exercising the absolute rights set forth in the PRA to classify certain documents as ‘personal’ during that President’s term of office,” they said. they told the 11th Circuit in filings.
But the 11th Circuit noted that even though Trump designated the document as “personal,” the search warrants allow for the seizure of those documents.
“As we have said, the status of a document as personal or presidential does not alter the power of the government to seize it pursuant to a warrant justified by probable cause,” the judges wrote.
The attorney-client privilege claims were mostly resolved by both sides, but Trump argued that some of the records seized belonged to him personally as a former president. His legal team said the documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago should be considered “deemed privileged” by the courts and protected from criminal investigation until the independent review is complete.
Throughout the appeal, prosecutors remained opposed to Trump’s reading of the law, writing in part that he cannot assert executive privilege to prevent review of executive documents. by the executive itself. The Justice Department also argued that Cannon overstepped when it issued its September injunction barring the FBI from using seized material for investigative purposes.
A three-judge panel heard oral argument in the dispute last week, during which theyto the Justice Department’s position that Cannon improperly appointed the Special Captain to review the seized documents and erred when she issued her injunction.
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 the 2020 presidential election.