Appeals court halts special master review of Mar-a-Lago docs

Politics

(NewsNation) — A federal appeals court on Thursday ordered an end to the independent review of documents taken from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property during an FBI search of the estate.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated District Judge Aileen Cannon’s Sept. 5 order that both appointed a special master and blocked the Justice Department from using seized materials in its investigation.

Federal prosecutors are probing whether Trump knowingly took classified documents to his Florida resort after he left the White House, and whether he or anyone else obstructed the investigation.

In its ruling, the court directed Cannon to dismiss the lawsuit 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 investigation after the execution of the warrant,” the court wrote. “Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required.”

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.

Trump’s lawyers filed a lawsuit three weeks after the Aug. 8 search was conducted, contending a special master was warranted because there were privileged documents among those taken. They argued the FBI’s own review team — tasked with filtering out records covered by attorney-client privilege — was deficient.

Cannon’s initial ruling granting Trump’s request barred the Justice Department from using about 100 seized classified documents in its investigation. That decision was also appealed and overruled, and the Justice Department later appealed to have the entire lawsuit tossed.

In a 21-page ruling, the appeals court said Cannon had no authority to appoint a special master because the district court lacked jurisdiction. The judges rejected every single argument by Trump’s legal team, including that he had an interest in possessing some of the documents taken

The court noted some personal artifacts, such as his passport, were returned to him before he even filed his lawsuit.

During oral arguments in late November, Trump lawyer James Trusty told the judges that Trump’s status as a former president made this an unusual case that requires a special master’s review.

The judges disagreed.

“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 court wrote. “To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies ‘to all, without regard to numbers, wealth or rank.'”

The news came as top Justice Department officials were gathered for an annual holiday party in Washington. They learned they had won the case from reporters who were also in attendance.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

The ruling is a major victory for the Justice Department, which has appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Jack Smith, a former a longtime prosecutor, will take over the case because of Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.

After Smith was appointed, Trump assailed the Biden administration as “egregiously corrupt” and called it a “horrendous abuse of power — the latest in a long list of witch hunts.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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