Federal Court of Appeals Prepares to Hear Arguments in Mar-a-Lago Documents Dispute


Washington— A federal appeals court in Atlanta is set to hear arguments Tuesday in the dispute between the Justice Department and former President Donald Trump over the former president’s handling of sensitive records he brought to his South Florida residence from the White House at the end of his presidency.

At the center of the legal battle in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit is a federal district judge’s decision to grant Trump’s request for an independent arbiter, known as the special master, to review the approximately 13,000 documents seized during the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach resort, for material that may be the subject of claims of executive or attorney-client privilege .

Federal prosecutors told the court in a brief that about 300 documents bearing classification marks had been recovered from Mar-a-Lago since January, when the National Archives and Records Administration first recovered 15 boxes of documents from the property. Of those 300 documents, 103 folders, “some indicating the highest levels of classification and extremely limited distribution,” prosecutors said, were seized by the FBI in its Aug. 8 search.

Federal prosecutors have asked the 11th Circuit to halt the special master’s review and lift an injunction by Judge Aileen Cannon that barred the government from using the seized documents for investigative purposes.

A three-judge panel will hear arguments in the dispute beginning at 2 p.m. ET. The judges assigned to the case are Chief Justice William Pryor, Justice Britt Grant and Justice Andrew Brasher, according to the Clerk’s Office. Both Grant and Brasher were appointees to the 11th Circuit by Trump, while Pryor was a court appointee by former President George W. Bush.

In an earlier stage of the proceedings, Grant and Brasher were part of a three-judge panel that unanimously ruled against Trump and allowed the Justice Department to regain access to a lot of 103 documents marked classified that had initially been hidden from investigators.

Before the start of the oral argument, Trump’s lawyers Canon asked to order the Department of Justice to provide him with an unredacted version of the affidavit setting out the government’s rationale for the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. In its motion filed in Florida’s federal district court, Trump’s legal team noted the various ongoing investigations by federal and state officials involving the former president and claimed that “the research smacks of pretextual conduct in the hope of providing personal documents to prosecutors or agents who might find use for them in activities unrelated to them.”

Although prosecutors took the unusual step of urging the court to release much of the warrant filing in redacted form, Trump’s legal team said they needed access to the affidavit no redacted to “assert” his constitutional rights. US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the search warrant, released a redacted version of the affidavit in late August.

In filings with the 11th Circuit, federal prosecutors argued the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider Trump’s request for a special petty officer and was wrong when it decided to intervene in the investigation. The ongoing investigation into Trump’s handling of the cases, as well as the possible obstruction related to that investigation, justifies their unfettered access to seized evidence, Justice Department attorneys said.

Prosecutors also told the 11th Circuit that Trump’s claims of attorney-client and executive privilege — many of which have changed over time throughout the proceedings — are unfounded.

Trump’s legal team has repeatedly criticized the Justice Department’s investigation as “unprecedented and flawed” and called the ongoing legal fight a “documentary dispute that has spiraled out of control.”

In their own brief to the 11th Circuit, Trump’s lawyers argued that Cannon’s order appointing a special master was not appealable and that Trump considered the records he brought to Mar-a-Lago. as “staff” while still in office, an authorized designation. under the Presidential Archives Act. Under this law, a president personal files are purely private or non-public and unrelated to the ceremonial or official functions of the presidency.

“It is simply untenable to conclude that a President can be criminally charged for exercising the absolute rights set forth in the PRA to classify certain documents as ‘personal’ during that President’s term of office,” they said. they wrote.

The attorney-client privilege claims were mostly resolved by both sides, but Trump argued that some of the records seized belonged to him personally as a former president. His legal team argued that the documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago should be considered “deemed privileged” by the courts and protected from criminal investigation until the independent review is completed.

But prosecutors remained opposed to Trump’s reading of the law, writing in part that he cannot assert executive privilege to prevent review of executive documents by the executive himself. . Even if the documents were personal in nature, according to the Justice Department, they would still be subject to a court-authorized search warrant like the one executed at Mar-a-Lago.

When releasing his initial decision appointing the special master, Cannon wrote that Trump faced “potential inequitable harm due to improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” but criminal investigators rarely – if ever – release. evidence seized from the public unless there are criminal charges. are deposited.

After granting Trump’s request for a special master, Cannon appointed New York federal judge Raymond Dearie, a well-known semi-retired jurist, to lead the review. He is expected to complete his work in December.

Arguments before the 11th Circuit come days after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special adviser to oversee two Justice Department investigations involving Trump: the investigation into his handling of sensitive government records at Mar-a-Lago, as well as alleged efforts to obstruct that investigation and alleged efforts to unlawfully interfere with the transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election or the counting of Electoral College votes on January 6, 2021.

The Justice Department informed the 11th Circuit in a Monday filing that John “Jack” Smith had been appointed as special counsel, and his name would appear on future filings on the matter. Additionally, Smith “has reviewed the documents filed in this litigation and agrees with all of the arguments that have been presented in the briefs and will be discussed in oral argument,” Juan Antonio Gonzalez, the U.S. attorney in Miami, told the court.

Trump first asked the court to appoint a special master to review the seized documents in late August, two weeks after the FBI raided his office and storage room at Mar-a-Lago. Stemming from the proceedings was a separate dispute over investigators’ access to 103 documents marked classified, which Cannon’s original order kept barred from the Justice Department.

But federal prosecutors have asked that government investigators be allowed to regain access to the batch of files, that the 11th circuit cleared. Trump then asked the Supreme Court to intervene and let the special master have access to the 103 documents with classification marks, but his the request was refused.

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