A federal court temporarily blocked the government from utilizing secret materials to investigate whether the former president improperly kept national defense documents. An appeals court on Wednesday reinstated the Justice Department’s access to secret materials removed from former President Donald Trump’s Florida home last month, providing a victory to federal investigators.
In a strongly worded 29-page decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked part of an order by a federal judge. The appeal court lifted the part that had temporarily barred the department from using classified materials in its inquiry into whether Mr. Trump illegally retained national defense documents and obstructed the government’s repeated efforts to recover them.
The Justice Department argued the district court likely erred in enjoining the US from using secret data in its criminal investigation and requiring the US to submit marked confidential materials to a special master for review, a three-judge panel concluded, “We agree.”
The controversy arose after Judge Aileen M. Cannon, another Trump appointment, appointed a special master to review more than 11,000 confiscated papers for possibly protected ones. She also prevented criminal investigators from utilizing the information until the assessment was complete and denied the Justice Department’s request to omit 100 classified records from the process.
In its original petition to the appeals court, the department acknowledged the special master’s assessment of all records except those with classified markings, narrowly restricting its request to restore rapid access to investigation-related data. Prosecutors said that Judge Cannon’s interim order on using secret documents would impair an intelligence community evaluation of Mr. Trump’s record hoarding’s to national security dangers.
The appeals court judgment was a stark denial of Mr. Trump’s public, but not judicial, claim that he had declassified the sensitive materials at issue.
The appeals court ruled that Trump suggested he declassified these records as president. But the record offers no indication that any of these records were declassified.
The court stated, In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring since declassifying an official document would not modify its substance or render it personal.
The verdict would streamline the special master’s procedure. If it stands, Judge Dearie can focus on the 11,000 unclassified records instead of the classified material.
The appeals court wrote that Trump hasn’t established that he needs to know the information in the classified papers, and Trump also failed to show that the documents were declassified. Even if he had, that wouldn’t explain why the plaintiff wanted the confidential materials.
The verdict was the latest development in a probe into Mr. Trump’s stockpiling of secret materials. Trump’s legal team sued to prohibit the Justice Department from using the papers mid-August. His attorneys also wanted a special master with a broad ability to assess papers for privilege protections.
The FBI has previously identified data that may be privileged. Prosecutors said Mr. Trump’s request for a comprehensive inquiry, subject to executive privilege, was extraordinary, with no precedent or legal justification. The judge approved Trump’s request.
Judge Cannon has ordered Judge Dearie to review papers with classified markings and make suggestions concerning any information on which Mr. Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department disagree.
Part of this procedure would involve Mr. Trump’s attorneys reviewing the records to determine if they are government or personal property and privileged. Tuesday, lawyers on both sides fought over whether Mr. Trump’s legal team could examine the materials. A Justice Department lawyer claimed specific data were sensitive and that a top-secret clearance wasn’t enough. Some of the documents are so secret that even the team investigating suspected violations hasn’t seen them, said attorney Julie Edelstein. Judge Dearie may order Trump or his representatives to say if he declassified the files.
Tuesday, both sides clashed over whether Mr. Trump’s legal team should have access to the files during a hearing before Judge Dearie. Questions also arose over proof that the material was declassified. Mr. Trump’s lawyers say it’s premature to divulge such material since it may be a defense if he’s eventually prosecuted.
Judge Dearie no longer needs to consider each disagreement since the 11th Circuit removed classified information from the special master’s review.