Trump probe: Court halts Mar-a-Lago special master review




  • In Politics
  • 2022-12-01 22:44:18Z
  • By Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON (AP) - A unanimous federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information.

The decision by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. It also amounts to a sharp repudiation of arguments by Trump's lawyers, who for months had said that the former president was entitled to have a so-called "special master" conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from the property.

The ruling from the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had been expected given the skeptical questions the judges directed at a Trump lawyer during arguments last week, and because two of the three judges on the panel had already ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special master.

The decision was a unanimous opinion from the panel of Republican appointees, including two who were selected by Trump. In it, the court rejected each argument by Trump and his attorneys for why a special master was necessary, including his claims that various seized records were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

"It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president - but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation," the judges wrote.

A Trump spokesperson said Thursday's decision was "purely procedural" and did not address the "impropriety" of the raid, and promised that the ex-president would "continue to fight" against the Justice Department. Lawyers for Trump did not immediately respond when asked if they would appeal the ruling.

The special master litigation has played out alongside an ongoing investigation examining the potential criminal mishandling of national defense information as well as efforts to possibly obstruct the documents probe. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed Jack Smith, a veteran public corruption prosecutor, to serve as special counsel overseeing that investigation.

It remains unclear how much longer the investigation will last, or who, if anyone, might be charged. But the probe has shown signs of intensifying, with investigators questioning multiple Trump associates about the documents and granting one key ally immunity to ensure his testimony before a federal grand jury. And the appeals court decision is likely to speed the investigation along by cutting short the outside review of the records.

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

A federal judge, Aileen Cannon, granted the Trump team's request, naming veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie to serve as special master and tasking him with reviewing the seized records and filtering out from the criminal investigation any documents that might be covered by claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

She also barred the Justice Department from using in its criminal investigation any of the seized records, including the roughly 100 with classification markings, pending the completion of Dearie's work.

The Justice Department objected to the appointment, saying it was an unnecessary hindrance to its criminal investigation and that Trump had no credible basis to invoke either attorney-client privilege or executive privilege to shield the records from investigators.

It sought, as a first step, to regain access to the classified documents. A federal appeals panel sided with prosecutors in September, permitting the Justice Department to resume its review of the documents with classification markings. Two of the judges on that panel - Andrew Brasher and Britt Grant, both Trump appointees - were part of Thursday's ruling as well.

The department also pressed for unfettered access to the much larger trove of unclassified documents, saying such records could contain important evidence for their investigation.

In its ruling Thursday, the appeals court directed Cannon to dismiss the lawsuit that gave rise to Dearie's appointment and suggested Trump had no legal basis to challenge the search in the first place.

"The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so," the judges wrote.

"Either approach," they added, "would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts' involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations."

_____

Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etucker

COMMENTS

More Related News

Ban on marijuana users owning guns is unconstitutional, U.S. judge rules
Ban on marijuana users owning guns is unconstitutional, U.S. judge rules
  • US
  • 2023-02-04 21:35:29Z

A federal law prohibiting marijuana users from possessing firearms is unconstitutional, a federal judge in Oklahoma has concluded, citing last year's U.S...

Selling Trump Isn
Selling Trump Isn't What It Used to Be

When Donald Trump announced his foray into NFTs late last year, capitalizing on public interest in his presidential campaign to sell cartoonish virtual...

Eric Trump Blames Dad
Eric Trump Blames Dad's Beloved Brexit For Millions In Losses At Scottish Golf Courses

Donald Trump had hailed the U.K.'s departure from the European Union as a "great thing" for Britain and for business.

This week in politics: China spy balloon, Haley enters
This week in politics: China spy balloon, Haley enters '24 race, Omar ditched from House committee

What happened this week in politics? Biden and McCarthy met at the White House to talk debt ceiling and news of a Nikki Haley White House run leaked.

The race for the 2024 election is on. But who will take on Trump?
The race for the 2024 election is on. But who will take on Trump?

The ex-president is daring Republican challengers to make the first move - and some are preparing to attack

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Politics