A federal appeals court on Wednesday removed barriers to the Justice Department’s criminal probe into documents uncovered at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, finding that investigators can continue to use about 100 classified files uncovered in the inquiry.
The decision marked a big win for the DOJ.
The Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit temporarily reversed portions of a ruling earlier this month from a Florida judge who had barred the government from using the secret papers for criminal investigative purposes pending a review by an independent arbiter.
In a 29-page ruling, a three-judge appeals panel wrote that public interests weighed in favor of allowing the government to continue probing the trove of confidential documents.
The panel said in its order that it would “be difficult, if not impossible,” for the government to answer critical questions without access to the classified material, and that it could not discern why Trump “would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings.”
The initial ruling came from Judge Aileen Cannon of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida — appointed by Trump in 2020 — and Wednesday’s decision bookended a brutal day for the ex-president.
In the morning, the New York state attorney general sued Trump, accusing him and his associates of overstating the value of his assets by billions of dollars.
In the lead up to Cannon’s decision, the Justice Department had been probing Trump’s handling of secret government records, which were mixed in at Mar-a-Lago with books, unclassified government materials and hundreds of news clippings, according to court papers.
The FBI unearthed the files on Aug. 8 in an unprecedented search of Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla., residence and club.
Legal experts had raised eyebrows at Cannon’s order.
“The main point of the appeal is ultimately to get a rather incoherent and poorly reasoned opinion about presidential prerogative off the books,” Peter M. Shane, a legal scholar in residence at NYU, said last week.
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