Mar-a-Lago documents: Appeals court doubts Trump’s arguments for special review

Mar-a-Lago documents: Appeals court doubts Trump’s arguments for special review


A panel of federal appeals court judges — all appointed by Republican presidents — cast doubt on the former president on Tuesday. Donald TrumpArguments why the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago required a special master to review the materials that were seized.

During 40 minutes of oral arguments at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the three-judge panel asked Trump’s team several skeptical questions, suggesting they were not convinced Trump had shown that “extraordinary” judicial intervention in the investigation was needed. .

The move by a Florida-based judge to appoint a third party to help decide what of the approximately 22,000 pages of material obtained in the raid belongs to investigators has thrown a significant wrench into the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into whether records from the Trump White House are bad handled.

“Other than the fact that it’s a former president, everything else about this … is indistinguishable,” Judge William Pryor, the appeals court’s chief judge, told Trump’s attorney James Trusty during the hearing.

“We have to be concerned about the precedent we would create that would allow any criminal target of a federal criminal investigation to go to a district court and have a district court hear this type of petition, exercise equitable jurisdiction (which allows the court to intervene) and interfere with an ongoing executive branch investigation.” ,” Pryor said.

Trump’s argument that the DOJ’s work could infringe on his constitutional rights is the basis for why a trial judge put parts of the Justice Department’s investigation on hold and appointed a third “special master” to review thousands of documents seized to determine which should be withheld from investigators.

On the panel, Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee, was the most direct in his disagreement with Trump’s reasoning. Two other judges on the panel, Britt Grant and Andrew Basher, both Trump appointees, previously indicated in a ruling related to the case that they believed the trial judge had overreached.

Trusty argued in court Tuesday that the search and seizure may have violated the former president’s rights, saying the FBI took golf shirts and pictures of Celine Dion from the home and beach resort, along with documents marked classified.

The judges rejected his features.

“The problem is you know, the search warrant was for classified documents, boxes and other things mixed in with that. I don’t think it’s necessarily the government’s fault if somebody mixed up classified documents and all kinds of other personal property,” Pryor told Trusty during the argument.

In a separate exchange, Grant interrupted Trusty when he called the August search at Mar-a-Lago a “raid.”

“Do you think a raid is the right term to execute a warrant?” Grant asked.

Trusty then apologized for using a “loaded term”.

Prosecutors are investigating whether there was obstruction of justice, criminal handling of government records and violations of the Espionage Act, which prohibits the unauthorized storage of national defense information.

The Department of Justice has already been given a choice 11th round allowing her to continue her investigation of documents marked classified.

Now the Justice Department is asking to throw out the entire special-in-chief review, led by Raymond Dearie.

The appeals court’s decision to end the special master review of the Mar-a-Lago documents would increase the pace of the government documents investigation, which is in some ways the most straightforward of the various investigations surrounding the former president and 2024 candidate.

Special Advocate Jack Smith he is now overseeing the Mar-a-Lago investigation and an investigation into Trump’s post-2020 efforts to reverse his election defeat.

Grant and Brasher were on the panel that in September approved the DOJ’s request to be allowed to reopen a criminal investigation into about 100 classified documents obtained by the FBI in the raid.

In a decision signed in September by Grant and Brasher regarding confidential documents, the Court of Appeals questioned the legal reasoning a lower court judge used to appoint a special administrator.

Because the lower trial court found no “callous disregard” of Trump’s constitutional rights, the 11th Circuit wrote at the time, that is “sufficient reason to conclude that the district court abused its discretion in the exercise of equitable jurisdiction here.”

All three judges hearing the appeal on Tuesday directed questions at Trump’s team about the lack of evidence that his rights were violated by the search. Trusty argued that through a separate capital process, Trump’s lawyers could show that the search was illegal.

“The ultimate goal of the search is to establish that it was an illegal seizure?” Pryor asked incredulously.

Grant, meanwhile, asked Trusty if he thought it was “rare” for the target of a search warrant to think the search warrant was “violated.”

Pryor’s facial expressions indicated exasperation with the Trump team’s arguments, as he repeatedly shook his head as Trusty tried to answer his questions.

When Trusty said it was “no secret” that Trump’s team intended to present new arguments and motions to challenge the legality of the search as the separate lead review unfolded, Pryor interjected, “That’s a secret for this record,” referring to the record that is on appeal the court had the task to consider.

It also set the Trump team’s focus on Trump’s personal belongings — which they say included golf shirts, birthday cards and even a photo of Celine Dion — that were swept up in the search.

“The problem is you know, the search warrant was for classified documents, boxes and other things mixed in with that. I don’t think it’s necessarily the government’s fault if somebody mixed up classified documents and all kinds of other personal property,” Pryor told Trusty.

Decision to US District Judge Aileen Cannon — who sits in federal court in Fort Pierce, Florida — the appointment of the special master drew criticism from a wide range of legal experts.

When the 11th Circuit excluded documents marked as classified from review in September, the three-judge panel implied that the entire appointment of the special master was based on a legally flawed premise. However, it will be a new panel — chosen at random — that will hear the DOJ’s appeal on Tuesday, raising the possibility that the former president will pluck judges sympathetic to his claims.

Trump asked for a special master because he said there was a risk that documents would be swept up in the search under attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. However, in his arguments with the Court of Appeals, he focused on the theory that he had the ability to mark most White House documents as personal. Therefore, Trump argued, the Department of Justice has no right to initiate a criminal investigation into how the materials were handled.

“President Trump has an obvious interest in his personal (and even presidential) records and the District Court acted within its discretion in recognizing that a neutral party is necessary to facilitate a determination of the legal status of the documents,” his attorney said in a brief. . with the appellate court.

The Justice Department told the 11th Circuit that Trump’s new theory is “meritless,” “completely irrelevant” and an argument the appeals court should not even consider. Prosecutors argue that there was no justification for requesting a review and that the special principal process, by limiting the ability of investigators to use documents in their investigation, causes undue harm to the public’s interest in the speedy application of the criminal law.

Cannon appointed Dearie, a senior judge who sits in federal court in Brooklyn, to lead the third-party review. Dearie indicated he would like to move quickly and showed little patience for the Trump team’s delaying tactics. However, Cannon intervened from time to time to change his plans, including pushing back the audit completion date until at least mid-December. At that point, Dearie will submit a report to Cannon with his recommendations on who should prevail in disputes between Trump and prosecutors over whether certain documents can be used in the investigation, but Cannon will have the final call.

The Department of Justice has already returned to Trump a selection of documents that were either legal in nature or were non-government documents containing sensitive personal information, such as medical records. Now at stake are more than 2,800 documents obtained in the search that Trump is fighting to keep out of the hands of investigators.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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