Special master: Appeals court halts review of Trump documents seized at Mar-a-Lago

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CNN

In a major defeat for former President Donald Trump, a federal appeals court Thursday halted a third-party review of documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate.

The ruling removes a major obstacle to the Justice Department’s investigation into mishandling of government data from Trump’s time in the White House.

The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s order to appoint a so-called special master to sort through thousands of documents found in Trump’s home to determine what off limits to researchers. The judge thought that the judge should not have intervened.

“The law is clear,” the appeals court wrote. “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 only allows former presidents to do this.”

The 11th Circuit said either approach would be a “radical reordering of our jurisprudence that would limit the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations” and that “both would violate the fundamental limitations of the separation of powers.”

The Justice Department is investigating obstruction of justice, criminal misuse of government data and violations of the Espionage Act, court documents show. The investigation exploded into the public eye with the search in August, which came after investigators obtained evidence they said led them to believe Trump had failed to comply with a subpoena for all documents classified as stored at his Florida home.

The opinion — issued jointly by the three-judge panel made up of all GOP appointees — debunked Trump’s arguments for why a special master was needed. The court said that only in extraordinary circumstances should courts intervene in Justice Department investigations that are still in their early stages, and that standard was not met here.

“This restraint protects against unnecessary judicial interference in the course of criminal investigations – a sphere of power entrusted to the executive,” the court wrote.

The appeals court said the new ruling will take effect within seven days unless a party to the case successfully applies for an injunction — known as a stay — to halt the entry into force of the ruling while it is under appeal .

Trump’s legal team has not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but is considering the option, a source familiar with the discussions told CNN.

The ruling is a sharp rebuke of how Cannon got involved in the dispute. In addition to overturning the order, the appeals court orders her to dismiss the entire case.

The appeals court focused on the idea, alluded to in its order appointing the special master, that Trump deserves special treatment because he is a former president.

“It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed in the home of a former president, but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise authorizes the judiciary to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the court said.

Creating that “special exception,” the 11th Circuit wrote, “would defy our nation’s fundamental principle that our law applies ‘to all, regardless of number, wealth, or rank’.”

The three-member panel that made the ruling is made up of appointees of Republican presidents, including two Trump benched: Britt Grant and Andrew Basher. Both lawyers had previously hinted in a ruling related to the case that they believed Cannon had gone too far.

The third, Justice William Pryor, the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, is a George W. Bush appointee who has long demonstrated his conservative bona fides on numerous controversial issues.

Trump had sought the special master in the weeks following the August search to secure Cannon’s warrant. Judge Raymond Dearie, a senior judge sitting in Brooklyn, had been assigned by Cannon to lead the review of the thousands of remaining documents.

During oral argument in the 11th Circuit case, Trump attorney James Trusty said only about 900 of those documents were in dispute. Trump’s legal team claims the documents are his personal information or privileged and should be kept out of the scope of the investigation.

Attorneys for the Justice Department argued that the special master process would take several weeks, if not months, hampering the investigation of the documents. Prosecutors said without access to the other documents, they could not question witnesses about the material found mixed with secret documents at Mar-a-Lago.

The Justice Department’s efforts are now led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed last week to lead that investigation and another probe into efforts to reverse Trump’s 2020 election loss, which involved the former president and the current White House nominee in 2024 could be involved.

Smith took over the investigation shortly before the 11th Circuit heard oral arguments in the case and said in court documents that he approved of federal prosecutors’ position. He has promised that his appointment will not slow down the pace of the investigations he takes over.

This story has been updated with additional details.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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