The emergency intervention updates a trial judge’s order on the documents that blocked federal investigators’ work on the documents, and is a strong rebuke of the Trump team’s attempt to suggest without evidence that the materials were somehow classified. Trump’s options to block the criminal investigation are now fading, and one of the only options left for him is an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.
The ruling was handed down by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — two of whom were nominated by Trump.
Those records — which prosecutors have said contain highly sensitive national security information — are at the center of a criminal investigation into the mishandling of federal records since the Trump presidency. Their concern was a major factor in allowing the judiciary and the court to conduct an unprecedented raid on the former president’s home.
Overall, the 29-page opinion was a major boost to the Justice Department’s arguments throughout the controversy over the Mar-a-Lago documents, while undermining several claims that Trump made about materials seized by the FBI.
“It is clear that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of de-identified records does not cause ‘exceptionally serious damage to national security,'” the three-judge panel said. “It is essential to review the documents, determine who has access to them and when, and determine which (if any) sources or methods are compromised.”
Acknowledging that could be a huge problem for Trump as the investigation continues, the appeals court noted that even former presidents cannot keep classified information without federal approval.
“For our part, we cannot discern why plaintiff would have a personal interest or need in any of the hundreds of documents with classification marks,” the appeals court wrote, noting that classified records are controlled by the current government. Shared on a need-to-know basis.
“This requirement applies equally to former presidents, unless the current administration, in its discretion, chooses to waive that requirement.”
Court slams Trump over classified claims
On Wednesday night, an appeals court panel called out Trump’s legal team.
“Plaintiff claims that he could have classified these documents while he was president,” the court wrote. “But there is no evidence in the record that any of these records were classified. And before the Special Master, plaintiff objected to presenting any evidence that any of these documents were classified.”
Trump’s attorneys sought to delay specific disclosures about whether the documents were classified while the special master initially reviewed the materials.
It includes a detailed breakdown of the reasoning put forth by US District Judge Eileen Cannon in the appeals court to order the special prima facie review and deny the DOJ’s request that classified documents be exempt from it.
The panel tore apart Cannon’s argument to justify his intervention, saying he presented an “impossible” approach to allowing the intelligence community’s assessment to continue while the criminal investigation into the documents was suspended. The government has adequately explained “how and why its national security review is inextricably intertwined with its criminal investigation” — a claim Cannon rejected.
“The records’ classification markings confirm that they are government records and that responsible officials have previously determined that their unauthorized disclosure would cause damage — including ‘exceptionally serious damage’ — to the nation’s security,” lawyers said in the 11th Circuit. Filed Tuesday night.
The Justice Department asked the 11th Circuit to intervene in the Mar-a-Lago documents controversy after Trump successfully sued to appoint a special master — an independent counsel — over some 11,000 documents obtained by the FBI. Its search.
Cannon previously rejected a judicial request to suspend parts of his order that applied to 100 documents identified as classified.
None of the three criminal statutes cited by the FBI when it obtained the Mar-a-Lago search warrant hinged on the classified material, the DOJ argued.
In an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Trump said he did not know what was in the boxes taken by the FBI. Pressed further about the classification of documents found at Mar-a-Lago, Trump reiterated theories that legal experts are less qualified.
Two Trump candidates
The three-judge panel that handed down Thursday’s unanimous ruling was made up of three judges, two of whom were appointed by Trump.
Justices Britt Grant and Andrew Presser were appointed by Trump in 2018 and 2020, respectively, while Justice Robin Rosenbaum was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014.
Before serving on the 11th Circuit, Grant — confirmed 52-46 in the Senate — was a Georgia state Supreme Court justice and served as the state’s solicitor general from 2015 to 2016.
Presser served as a district court judge in the Middle District of Alabama before being appointed by Trump and confirmed by a 52-43 vote.
Rosenbaum served as a district court judge in the Southern District of Florida before being confirmed in the Senate in a 91-0 vote and appointed to the 11th Circuit.
Concerns about national security
In seeking to reopen a criminal investigation into the documents, the Justice Department argued that Cannon’s order prevented investigators from taking steps to assess and mitigate national security risks posed by how the documents were handled.
Cannon said a national security assessment of materials conducted by the intelligence community could continue. However, the Justice Department argued that the evaluation cannot be separated from the criminal investigation.
The appeals judges found that the federal government and national security could be harmed by the suspension of its investigation, and that Trump’s team lacked sufficient cause to review the classified records.
The Court did not dispute the Justice Department’s assertion that it cannot divorce its investigative review of documents from its criminal investigation.
“An injunction that would delay (or perhaps prevent) a US criminal investigation from using classified material would cause real and significant harm to the US and the public,” the court wrote.
“Courts should order reconsideration of such material only in the most extraordinary circumstances. The record does not permit the conclusion that such is the case,” the judgment added.
Not Trump’s records
The 11th Circuit strongly rejected Trump’s arguments that he might have an interest in classified records that could withhold them from federal criminal investigators.
They wrote that Trump “has no vested interests in the documents at issue, so he would not suffer cognizable harm if the United States reviewed documents he does not own or have a personal interest in. Second, we find implausible Plaintiff’s assertion that he would be harmed by a criminal investigation.”
“Given the nature of the classified materials at issue here and the record, there is no reason to expect that the United States’ use of these records imposes the risk of the United States’ disclosure of plaintiff’s privileged information,” they wrote. .
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.
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