Los Angeles Times

Judges rule for government in Trump documents case

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WASHINGTON — A federal appeals panel has lifted a judge’s hold on the Justice Department’s ability to use classified records seized from former President Trump’s Florida estate in its ongoing criminal investigat­ion.

The ruling from a threejudge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is a victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for it to immediatel­y resume its use of the documents as it evaluates whether to bring criminal charges in its investigat­ion into the presence of top-secret government records held at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House.

The government had argued that its investigat­ion had been impeded by the order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporaril­y barred investigat­ors from continuing to use the documents in the probe.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, had said the hold would remain in place pending a separate review by an independen­t arbiter she had appointed at the Trump team’s request.

The FBI last month seized roughly 11,000 documents, including about 100 with classifica­tion markings, during a court-authorized search of the Palm Beach club. It has launched a criminal investigat­ion into whether the records were mishandled or compromise­d. It is not clear whether Trump or anyone else will be charged.

Cannon ruled Sept. 5 that she would name an independen­t arbiter, or special master, to review those records and segregate any that may be covered by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege and to determine whether any of the materials should be returned to Trump. U.S. Judge Raymond Dearie, former chief judge of the court based in

Brooklyn, has been named to the role.

The Justice Department had argued that a special master review of the classified documents was not necessary. It said Trump, as a former president, could not invoke executive privilege over the documents, nor could they be covered by attorney-client privilege because they do not involve communicat­ions between Trump and his lawyers.

Trump’s lawyers argued that an independen­t review of the records was essential given the unpreceden­ted nature of the investigat­ion. The lawyers also said the department had not yet proved that the seized documents were classified, though they notably stopped short of asserting — as Trump repeatedly has — that the records were previously declassifi­ed. They have resisted providing Dearie with their position on that question, signaling the issue could be part of their defense in the event of an indictment.

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