Donald Trump denied special master to review documents seized during Mar-a-Lago FBI raid

WASHINGTON, DC– A unanimous federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, removing a hurdle that the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into storing top secret government information.

The three-judge panel’s decision represents a significant win for federal prosecutors and paves the way for them to consider the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago to use part of their investigation. It also comes in a sharp rejection of arguments by Trump’s lawyers, who for months have said the former president is entitled to a so-called “special master” to conduct an impartial review of the thousands of documents from the estate.

The Atlanta-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling for the 11th Circuit came amid skeptical questions judges put to a Trump attorney during last week’s altercations, and because two of the panel’s three judges had already ruled in favor, expected the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special master.

The decision was a unanimous opinion of the panel of Republican nominators, including two chosen by Trump. In it, the court rejected every argument by Trump and his attorneys as to why a special master was necessary, including his claims that various seized records were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive branch privilege.

“It is indeed exceptional for an arrest warrant to be executed in the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise permits the judiciary to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the judges wrote.

A Trump spokesman said Thursday’s decision was “purely procedural” and did not address the “inappropriateness” of the crackdown, and vowed the ex-president would “continue to fight” against the Justice Department. Trump’s attorneys did not immediately respond when asked if they would appeal the verdict.

The special master’s trial has played out alongside an ongoing investigation into possible criminal misuse of national defense information and efforts to potentially obstruct the investigation of the documents. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed Jack Smith, a veteran corruption prosecutor, as the special counsel to oversee this investigation.

It remains unclear how long the investigation will continue or who, if any, will be charged. But the investigation has shown signs of intensifying, with investigators questioning several Trump associates about the documents and granting a key ally immunity to ensure his testimony before a federal grand jury. And the appeals court decision will likely expedite the investigation by shortening the external review of the records.

The conflict over the special master began just weeks after the FBI search, when Trump sued in federal court in Florida, seeking the appointment of an independent arbitrator to review the roughly 13,000 documents the Justice Department said were stolen from the home.

A federal judge, Aileen Cannon, granted the Trump team’s request, appointing veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie as special master and directing him to review the seized records and filter out any documents from the criminal investigation that might have been linked to claims of Executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

She also barred the Justice Department from using the confiscated records, including about 100 with classification marks, in its criminal investigations until Dearie’s work was complete.

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

As a first step, she tried to regain access to the classified information. A federal appeals panel sided with prosecutors in September, allowing the Justice Department to resume its review of classified documents. Two of the panel’s judges — Andrew Brasher and Britt Grant, both appointed by Trump — were also part of Thursday’s decision.

The department also pushed for unhindered access to the much larger trove of unclassified documents, saying such records could contain important evidence for its investigation.

In its Thursday ruling, the Court of Appeals ordered Cannon to dismiss the lawsuit that led to Dearie’s appointment and suggested Trump had no legal basis at all to contest the search.

“The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows a subject of a search warrant to block a government investigation after the warrant has been executed. Nor can we write a rule that only allows former presidents to do so,” the judges wrote.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Donald Trump denied special master to review documents seized during Mar-a-Lago FBI raid

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