By Eric Tucker, Nauman Merchant and Jill Colon
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a sharp rebuttal of Donald Trump’s legal arguments, a federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked the Justice Department from seizing the former president’s Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation. Allowed to resume using records.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is a major victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for investigators to continue examining the documents as they seek Consider whether to lay criminal charges for hoarding. Top Secret Records at Mar-a-Lago After Trump Leaves the White House By holding up a fundamental aspect of the department’s investigation, the court removed a hurdle that could have delayed the probe for weeks.
The appeals court also pointedly noted that Trump had not presented any evidence that he had declassified sensitive records, as he maintained as recently as Wednesday, and rejected the possibility that Trump may have an “individual interest or need” with about 100 documents. Classification symbols seized by the FBI in an August 8 search of a Palm Beach property.
“If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, ‘It’s declassified.’ Trump claimed in a Fox News Channel interview taped before the appeals court’s decision on Wednesday.
The government had argued that its investigation was hampered, and national security concerns were overruled, by US District Judge Ellen Cannon’s order barring investigators from continuing to use the documents in its inquiry. Temporarily stopped. Cannon, a Trump appointee, said the freeze would remain in place pending a separate review by an independent arbitrator at the Trump team’s request to review the records.
The appeals panel agreed with the Justice Department’s concerns.
“It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of classified records does not result in ‘unreasonably serious harm to national security,'” he wrote. “Detection essentially involves reviewing documents, determining who had access to them and when, and determining by what means or methods they were compromised,” he added. “
An injunction that delays or prevents a criminal investigation “prevents threats of real and significant harm to the United States and the public from the use of classified material,” he wrote.
Two of the three judges who issued Wednesday’s ruling — Bert Grant and Andrew Brasher — were nominated by Trump to the 11th Circuit. Judge Robin Rosenbaum was nominated by former President Barack Obama.
Trump’s lawyers did not return an email seeking comment on whether he would appeal the ruling. The Justice Department had no immediate comment.
The FBI seized about 11,000 documents during a court-authorized search of the Palm Beach Club last month, including about 100 with classified markings. It has opened a criminal investigation into whether the records were improperly used or compromised, though it is unclear whether Trump or anyone else will be charged.
Cannon ruled on Sept. 5 that it would name an independent arbitrator, or special master, to independently review those records and set aside anything covered by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. and to determine whether any of these materials should be returned to Trump.
Raymond Derry, the former chief judge of the Brooklyn-based federal court, has been nominated for the role and held his first meeting with lawyers on both sides on Tuesday.
The appeals court’s decision appears to substantially limit the special master’s job description, enabling the Justice Department to avoid providing him with classified documents for review. Instead, Derry will review a huge trove of unclassified government documents.
The Justice Department had argued that a special master review of classified documents was not necessary. It said Trump had no reasonable basis to request executive privilege over the documents, and that the records could not be covered by attorney-client privilege because they include communications between Trump and his attorneys. do not have.
He also contested Cannon’s order requiring him to provide Derry and Trump’s lawyers with access to classified material. The court sided with the Justice Department on Wednesday, saying “courts should only order review of such material in the most exceptional circumstances. The record does not permit a conclusion that this is such a situation.”
Although Trump’s lawyers have said the president has full authority to declassify the information, they have stopped short of specifically asserting that the records were declassified. Trump’s team this week resisted providing Derry with any information to support the idea that the records could be declassified, saying the matter would be his defense if he is indicted. may be part.
The Justice Department has said there is no indication Trump has taken any steps to declassify the documents and even included a photo of some of the seized documents with colored cover sheets. with indicates their classification. The Appellate Court also said the same thing.
“Plaintiff suggests that he may have disclosed these documents while he was president. But there is no evidence in the record that any of these records were declassified,” the judges wrote. “In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document will not change its content or make it private.”
Colon reported from New York.