DOJ can access classified docs from Mar-a-Lago, court rules

Politics

(NewsNation) — A federal appeals court has granted the Justice Department’s request to block an independent arbiter from reviewing classified documents that were seized from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of former President Donald Trump.

The unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel partially stays the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen M. Cannon and also gives the DOJ the green light to resume its criminal investigation into how the documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago. FBI agents searched the home on Aug. 8 and seized troves of documents, including a set of about 100 classified records.

Cannon, in granting the special master review, ruled the department could not use any of the seized documents in its criminal investigation. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Justice Department that Cannon erred in her ruling.

The special master will still be allowed to review the other approximately 11,000 documents that were taken to determine which ones are protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

In its ruling, the appeals panel noted that Trump’s legal team has not actually asserted Trump declassified any of the documents, despite comments to the contrary posted by Trump on social media. His legal team has only said he possessed the ability to do so when he was president.

“In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal,” the court said. “So even if we assumed that Plaintiff did declassify some or all of the documents, that would not explain why he has a personal interest in them.”

Trump’s team Tuesday resisted a request from the special master, judge Raymond Dearie, to expound on Trump’s declassification claim. Dearie indicated that he would accept the government’s position if Trump’s team didn’t provide any evidence that the former president declassified the documents.

In a Thursday filing, Dearie also asked Trump’s lawyers to provide proof of their allegations that the FBI planted evidence and outlined his plan to review the materials.

Dearie laid out a series of deadlines in the case, giving Trump’s lawyers until the end of the month to “raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy” of the materials retrieved from the Florida property.

The appeals court judges, two appointed by Trump and one appointed by former President Barack Obama, also said Trump has no “personal interest” in the documents, one of the factors they must consider when granting an injunction.

“For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings,” the court said. “Plaintiff has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents.”

The judges declared it “self-evident” that the public interest favored allowing the Justice Department to determine if national security would be at risk by the improper disclosure of any of the classified documents.

It was unclear whether Trump’s team would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

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