A US appeals court on Thursday reversed a judge’s appointment of a special master to vet documents seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida home in a blow to the former president.
A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Justice Department in its challenge to a September ruling by US district judge Aileen Cannon.
The 11th Circuit overturned Ms Cannon’s decision to grant Mr Trump’s request for a special master to vet the records to decide if some should be kept from investigators and to bar investigators from accessing most of the records pending the review.
The circuit court panel said Ms Cannon lacked the authority to grant Mr Trump’s request for a special master made in a lawsuit he filed two weeks after FBI agents carried out a court-approved August 8th search at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
It also overturned Ms Cannon’s decision to bar investigators from accessing most of the records pending the review and threw out Mr Trump’s suit.
The former president faces a federal criminal investigation into his retention of sensitive government records after leaving office in January 2021, including whether he violated a 1917 law called the Espionage Act that makes it a crime to release information harmful to national security. Investigators also are looking into potential unlawful obstruction of the probe.
FBI agents seized about 11,000 records, including about 100 marked as classified, during the search.
The 11th Circuit said although a search warrant for a former president’s property is “extraordinary,” it did not give “the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation”.
The court also said Mr Trump did not prove there was a “callous disregard” for his constitutional rights in the search of his property, one of the few reasons a court can intervene in an ongoing investigation.
“The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant,” the panel wrote. “Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”
Mr Trump is likely to appeal the 11th Circuit’s action to the conservative-majority US Supreme Court. The 11th Circuit said its order will not take effect for seven days, during which Mr Trump could seek to challenge it.
A Trump spokesperson called the decision “purely procedural and based only on jurisdiction,” and said it did not address the merits of the case. – Reuters