washington – A three-judge federal appeals court panel in Atlanta ruled thatThat should end the Justice Department’s use of unclassified evidence collected at Donald Trump’s Florida residence earlier this year.
A unanimous decision by the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned a decision by a Florida federal judge, Judge Eileen Cannon, whofor review and semi-retired federal judge Raymond Derry of New York as an independent arbitrator, or To sift through any document subject to claims of privilege by the former President.
That ruling also barred investigators from using nearly 13,000 documents taken from Trump’s resort Mar-a-Lago.for investigative purposes. different Since September, the Justice Department was allowed access to more than 100 documents with classified markings that it seized to investigate Trump’s alleged mishandling of sensitive documents, and Thursday’s subsequent decision allowed the government Provided full access to evidence records.
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 only on jurisdiction.”
“The decision does not address the merits that clearly demonstrate the inappropriateness 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 warrants—the “raids”—were legal.
The Justice Department “submitted an FBI agent’s affidavit to a Florida magistrate judge who agreed that there was probable cause to believe evidence of criminal violations at Mar-a-Lago was likely to be found,” the opinion said. stated in.
“President Donald J. Trump will continue to fight against the weaponized Department of ‘Justice’ while standing up for America and Americans,” Cheung said.
Trump and his allies have often accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of weaponizing the Justice Department against Republicans, although no court has found any evidence of this.
Chief Justice William Pryor said, “The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that permits any subject of a search warrant to block government investigation after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that that only allows former presidents to do so.” And Justices Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said in their 23-page opinion. “Either approach would be a radical rearrangement of our caselaw limiting the involvement of federal courts in criminal investigations. And both would violate the grounds of separation-of-powers.”
Pryor was appointed to the 11th Circuit by former President George W. Bush, while Grant and Brasher were nominated by Trump.
The 11th Circuit’s opinion vacated the order appointing the Special Master of Cannon and remanded the case back to the lower court with directions to quash it.
“In this appeal, we need 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.”
Two weeks after the FBI searched his office and storage room at Mar-a-Lago, Trump asked Cannon to appoint a special master to review the seized documents in late August. Prosecutors say they are conducting a national security investigation into those and other sensitive documents obtained from the Florida resort after Trump left office, and are potentially hindering that investigation.
When issuing his original order appointing the special master, Cannon wrote that Trump faced “disproportionate potential harm through improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public”, but that criminal investigators rarely – if ever – open to the public. Seized evidence released until criminal charges are filed. The Justice Department has repeatedly argued that the entire process was premature and unnecessary.
The former president’s legal team has said that Canon’s order appointing a special master was not appealable and claimed that Trump considered the records brought to Mar-a-Lago “personal” while he was still in office. were, a designation permitted under the Presidential Records Act. (PRA).
They told the 11th Circuit in the filing, “It is impossible to conclude that any president can be criminally charged for exercising the unfettered powers set forth in the PRA to classify certain documents as ‘personal’ during the president’s term.” May go.”
But the 11th Circuit noted that even though Trump designated the document as “personal,” the search warrant authorizes the seizure of such records.
“As we have said, a document’s status as personal or presidential does not change the government’s right to seize it under a warrant supported by probable cause,” the judges wrote.
The claims of attorney-client privilege have mostly been resolved by both sides, but Trump has argued that some of the seized records belong to him personally as a former president. His legal team has said that the documents brought to Mar-a-Lago should be treated by the courts as “presumptively privileged” and shielded from criminal investigation until the independent review is concluded.
During the appeal, prosecutors opposed Trump’s reading of the law, writing that he could not claim executive privilege to prevent review of executive branch documents by the executive branch. The Justice Department also argued that Cannon issued its September injunction when it barred the FBI from using the seized material for investigative purposes.
A panel of three judges heard oral arguments in the dispute last week, during which theyThe Justice Department’s position is that Cannon improperly appointed a special master to review the seized documents and made a mistake when he issued his injunction.
Thursday’s decision comes after Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed a special counsel to oversee the department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of government records as well as his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.