Appeals court halts special master review of Mar-a-Lago documents
Why it matters: It's a major defeat for Trump and a victory for the Department of Justice, which has pushed to end the third-party review. The decision allows the DOJ to continue its probe into the former president's handling of classified documents.
What they’re saying: "The law is clear," the appeals court wrote. “We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”
- “Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations.”
- “Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required,” it continued.
- "To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies ‘to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.'"
How it happened: The ruling comes after a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit last week seemed inclined to grant the DOJ's appeal of the special master's appointment during oral arguments.
- The DOJ argued that a federal judge "erred in ordering a special-master review for claims of executive and attorney-client privilege and enjoining the government’s use of the seized records in the meantime."
- Trump sought the special master, arguing that some of the records may be protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
The big picture: District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, had granted his request and appointed former New York federal judge Raymond Dearie as special master after Trump's team proposed him as a candidate and the DOJ agreed.
- Dearie, however, appeared skeptical of Trump's argument that he declassified the documents long before they were seized from Mar-a-Lago.
- The 11th Circuit sided with the DOJ when it granted the agency's request to resume reviewing classified documents from Mar-a-Lago as part of the department's criminal investigation.
Worth noting: The three-panel judge includes the circuit’s chief judge, Bush-appointed William Pryor, and two judges appointed by Trump.
State of play: The DOJ has appointed Jack Smith to oversee federal criminal investigations into Trump's handling of classified documents and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
- Trump criticized the special counsel appointment, writing on his Truth Social platform that Smith is "compromised" and a "political hit man."
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional background and reporting.