Prosecutors can use Mar-a-Lago documents in Trump criminal probe

A federal appeals panel has granted a request from the Justice Department to stay portions of a ruling from a judge that had effectively paused the government’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s potential theft of classified records after leaving office.

Judge Aileen Cannon ‘abused’ her discretion in requiring outside review of seized classified documents, according to the appellate court ruling.

A court-authorized search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home turned up hundreds of items described in the Justice Department’s 11-page inventory list, some of the documents were highly classified.

Appointing a no-nonsense judge to review the roughly 11,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago appears to be backfiring on Trump. U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie — the special master — told Trump’s legal team to state by Sept. 30 whether they believe their client’s commentary on the seized documents.

The Mar-a-Lago special master ordered Trump’s lawyers to state in a court filing whether they believe FBI agents lied about documents seized from the former president’s Florida residence in a court-authorized search last month, or claimed to have taken items that were not actually in Trump’s possession.

Trump has said on social media and in television interviews that the FBI planted items when they searched his Mar-a-Lago residence and private club on Aug. 8.

He also claimed to have declassified documents found in that search that were marked classified and were highly sensitive. 

Dearie’s order, in essence, demands that Trump’s lawyers back up their client’s claims. “This submission shall be Plaintiff’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” he wrote.

Dearie is not likely to determine that any documents found in that search should be shielded from criminal investigators because of claims of attorney-client privilege or the far more vague and disputed assertion of executive privilege.

Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s order barred the Justice Department from accessing the classified documents for its criminal probe until they were reviewed but the Justice Department successfully appealed that part of the decision.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit—made up of two Trump-nominated judges on the three-member panel—ruled that the classified material should not be part of the special master review and that the FBI could use it.

Again and again, the 11th Circuit ruling asserts in various ways that Trump is not entitled to privileged treatment, and that he is not above the law.

Trump’s tactics in court — which relied on a friendly judge to delay the investigation for as long as possible — have been decisively upended.

“It’s about as thorough a repudiation of the district court’s ruling as one could get,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

The appellate ruling reaffirmed that Trump is not entitled to documents that belong to the public, and it declared that the public has a legitimate interest in the government investigating whether his hoarding of them posed a serious national security threat, and if so, how.

The 11th Circuit was rather unsparing in unanimously granting the Justice Department a reprieve from Cannon’s order barring them from reviewing documents with classified markings seized from Mar-a-Lago. The stay is temporary, but the reasoning is firm.

They repeatedly rejected not just the Trump legal team’s lack of arguments, but also Cannon’s acceptance of them. Indeed, they suggested it was inexplicable that Cannon ruled for Trump even by her own logic.

The 11th Circuit ruling was the second legal setback of the day for Trump, who was sued Wednesday morning by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The lawsuit said Trump and his company flagrantly manipulated property and other asset valuations to deceive lenders, insurance brokers and tax authorities to getbetter rates and lower tax liability.

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