Appeals court strikes down special presidency in Trump papers case

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday removed a major hurdle in a criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents, ending a probe into the data the FBI seized from his home. Thousands of records were reviewed externally and made available to the Department of Justice for use in investigations.

In a 21-page unanimous but unsigned decision, a three-member jury of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta dismissed the lawsuit brought by Trump. Trump has stymied investigations into whether he illegally kept national security records at Mar-a-Lago, as well as repeated government efforts to retrieve them.

The appeals court was sharply critical of Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee, who decided in September to intervene in the case. It said Judge Cannon never had the legal jurisdiction to order a review or bar investigators from using the documents, and had no reason to treat Mr. Trump is unlike any other search warrant target.

“The execution of the warrant at the former president’s home is truly extraordinary — but does not affect our legal analysis or otherwise grant the judiciary permission to intervene in the ongoing investigation,” the court wrote.

It added that restrictions on when courts can intervene in criminal investigations apply “regardless of who the government is investigating”. “Creating a special exception here would go against the fundamental principle of our country that our laws apply to all people, regardless of number, wealth or rank.”

It was unclear whether Mr. Trump would appeal the decision. Mr Trump’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. gentlemen. Trump has asked the Supreme Court to overturn an earlier appeals court decision that excluded 103 documents marked classified from Judge Cannon’s review, but the justices, without any apparent dissent Refuse to do so.

All three judges on the jury that delivered Thursday’s verdict were appointed by the Republican president — two of them, Andrew L. Brasher and Britt Grant, were appointed by Trump. Trump appointed judge. Trump himself.

The decision came on the same day as three of Trump’s close aides made their decisions. Trump appeared before a grand jury in Washington that is investigating Mr. Trump’s handling of the documents, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Assistants include Mr. Dan Scavino Jr. Trump’s former social media guru, and William Russell and William B. Harrison who worked for Trump. When Trump was in the White House, people familiar with the matter said.

For more than two months, external scrutiny has stymied the Justice Department’s investigation of Mr. Trump handled about 13,000 documents and photos, including about 100 marked as classified, that the FBI removed from Mar-a-Lago in August.

The investigation is now being led by a special prosecutor, Jack Smith, who is also overseeing a separate inquiry into Mr. Trump’s role in various efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

At a hearing on November 22, the panel expressed deep doubts about the legality of Judge Cannon’s unusual intervention.

In its ruling, the appeals court looked at all four factors that determine whether Judge Cannon has jurisdiction, and stated the circumstances of the case in the absence of any of them. In particular, it noted that Judge Cannon himself agreed that the administration had not shown “callousness” toward Trump. Trump’s right.

The appeals court judge said this factor was essential under the law, so her findings alone should bring the matter to an end. They also said accepting her move would set a precedent that could disrupt how criminal investigations are run.

“The law is clear,” the appeals court wrote. “We cannot make a rule that allows the subject of any search warrant to block a government investigation after it has been executed. Nor can we make a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”

The ruling was an embarrassing development for Judge Cannon, a young jurist who found himself in the middle of a politically sensitive case.

In September, less than two years into her tenure on the bench, she stunned legal experts and the administration by temporarily barring the Justice Department from using any confiscated material in its investigation of Trump. Trump has installed an independent arbitrator, known as a special master, to review them.

Judge Cannon’s appointment of Special Supervisor Judge Raymond J. Dearie was particularly unusual in that she gave him the authority to screen documents not only for those protected by attorney-client privilege, which is fairly common, but also for those protected by attorney-client privilege Protection of people with executive privileges.

There is no precedent for a current or former president to successfully invoke executive privilege to prevent the Justice Department (part of the executive branch) from viewing executive branch material in a criminal investigation. However, the appeals court decision did not touch on that issue, as it ended Judge Cannon’s review on jurisdictional grounds.

Shortly after her original order was issued, prosecutors asked the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta to reverse the order and restore their ability to inspect some of the most sensitive documents: a batch of about 100 that had been marked as classified. Prosecutors said they needed quick, unrestricted access to classified material to fully understand Mr. Trump has deposited them at Mar-a-Lago.

Within a week, an appeals court ruled in favor of the government, excluding classified documents from the special director’s review and restoring investigators’ access to them. In their decision, the appeals panel — which includes the two Trump-appointed judges who issued the ruling Thursday — said it believed Judge Cannon made a fundamental error and should not have been involved in the case at all.

gentlemen. Trump appealed that early ruling to the Supreme Court, which declined to block it with a succinct order of no dissent. Soon after, the Justice Department went back to the Eleventh Circuit again, this time asking the court to shut down Special Masters’ review entirely.

Thursday’s ruling did exactly that, cutting Judge Dearie’s work short before he even had a chance to complete his review of the material. Judge Deary, a longtime federal judge in Brooklyn, cast doubt on Mr. Trump’s claims during his brief stint as special judge. Trump’s lawyers have said the documents he is reviewing are effectively privileged and thus exempt from the Justice Department’s investigation.

Several witnesses related to the investigation have appeared before a grand jury in federal district court in Washington in recent weeks.

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