WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from the Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, removing a roadblock the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into retention of top secret government information.
The three-judge panel’s decision represents a significant victory for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use in their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized in an August 8 FBI search in Mar- a-Lago. It also amounts to a stark rejection of the arguments of Trump’s lawyers, who for months had said the former president had the right to have a so-called ‘special master’ conduct a neutral review of the thousands of withdrawn documents. of the property.
The ruling by the Atlanta-based United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit was expected given skeptical questions the judges directed to a Trump lawyer during closing arguments last week, and because two of the three judges on the panel had previously ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special captain.
The special main litigation proceeded alongside an ongoing investigation examining potential criminal mishandling of national defense information as well as efforts to possibly obstruct that investigation. Last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith, a veteran public corruption prosecutor, to serve as special counsel overseeing that investigation.
It’s unclear how long the investigation will last or who, if anything, could be charged. But the investigation has shown signs of escalating, with investigators questioning several Trump associates over the documents and granting a key ally immunity to testify before a federal grand jury. And the decision of the court of appeal should accelerate the investigation by cutting short the external examination of the files.
The dispute over the special master began just weeks after the FBI raid, when Trump filed a lawsuit in federal court in Florida seeking the appointment of an independent arbitrator to review the approximately 13,000 documents which, according to the Department of Justice, were removed from the home.
A federal judge, Aileen Cannon, granted the request of the Trump team, appointing veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie to serve as a special master and instructing him to review the records seized and filter from the criminal investigation all the documents that could be covered by claims of executive privilege. or solicitor-client privilege.
She also barred the Justice Department from using any of the seized files, including the nearly 100 with classification marks, in its criminal investigation until Dearie had completed her work.
The Justice Department opposed the appointment, saying it was an unnecessary obstacle to its criminal investigation and saying Trump had no credible basis to invoke solicitor-client privilege or the executive privilege to protect investigators’ records.
She sought, initially, to find the access to the classified documents. A federal appeals panel sided with prosecutors in September, allowing the Justice Department to resume its review of documents with classification marks.
The department also insisted on having access to the greatest amount of unclassified documents, saying that these documents could contain important evidence for their investigation.