Mar-a-Lago probe: federal appeals court halts special master review in setback for Trump’s legal team

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A federal appeals court on Thursday halted an independent review of documents seized during the FBI’s unprecedented raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in August. 

The ruling, coming from the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, reverses U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon order granting a so-called special master to review seized records and determine what is and is not relevant to investigators. 

Cannon had named veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie and barred the Justice Department from using in its criminal investigation any of the seized records, including the roughly 100 with classification markings, until Dearie completed his work.

The Justice Department had argued that Dearie’s appointment was an unnecessary hindrance to its criminal investigation and said Trump had no credible basis to invoke either attorney-client privilege or executive privilege to shield the records from investigators.

It sought, as a first step, to regain access to the classified documents. A federal appeals panel sided with prosecutors in September, permitting the Justice Department to resume its review of the documents with classification markings.

MAR-A-LAGO PROBE: PROCEDURAL LEGAL BATTLE FOR DOCUMENTS CONTINUES IN 11TH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

The department also pressed for access to the much larger trove of unclassified documents, saying such records could contain important evidence for their investigation.

Thursday’s court order by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during the FBI raid. 

The special master litigation has played out alongside an ongoing investigation examining the potential criminal mishandling of national defense information as well as efforts to possibly obstruct that probe. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed Jack Smith, a veteran public corruption prosecutor, to serve as special counsel overseeing that investigation.

The conflict over the special master began just weeks after the FBI’s search, when Trump sued in federal court in Florida seeking the appointment of an independent arbiter to review the roughly 13,000 documents the Justice Department says were taken from the home.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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