An appeals court couldn't see how Trump has an 'interest in or need' for classified records seized from Mar-a-Lago

·3 min read
Trump supporters near Mar-a-Lago
Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather near his residence at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 9, 2022.Giorgio Viera/Getty Images
  • A federal appeals court granted the DOJ's request to resume a review of classified materials seized from Mar-a-Lago.

  • The ruling overturned Judge Aileen Cannon's decision that paused the review until a special master review.

  • The decision appeared to embrace the DOJ's claims that a further delay in the review would hurt national security.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday granted the Justice Department's request to resume a review of classified materials seized from Mar-a-Lago during a search last month of former President Donald Trump's home.

The ruling, from a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, overturned a Trump-appointed judge's decision that blocked the Justice Department from reviewing those records as part of a criminal inquiry into the former president's handling of government records.

In a 29-page ruling, the 11th Circuit delivered a forceful rebuke of Trump's suggestion that he had declassified the materials at issue and rejected the possibility that the former president could have an "individual interest in or need for" the more than 100 records marked as classified. The decision appeared to fully embrace the Justice Department's arguments that a further delay in the review of the highly sensitive records would compromise national security and cause "irreparable harm" to the government and public.

"It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of the classified records did not result in 'exceptionally grave damage to the national security,'" the 11th Circuit judges wrote.

"Ascertaining that," they added, "necessarily involves reviewing the documents, determining who had access to them and when, and deciding which (if any) sources or methods are compromised."

The 11th Circuit panel included two Trump appointees — Judges Andrew Brasher and Britt Grant — along with Judge Robin Rosenbaum, an Obama appointee.

In the aftermath of the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump's lawyers argued that an outside arbiter — known as a special master — should review the more than 11,000 seized records and sift out those potentially covered by attorney-client or executive privilege. Judge Aileen Cannon granted the request and appointed Raymond Dearie, a senior judge on the federal trial court in Brooklyn, to review the records and mediate any disputes between Trump's legal team and the Justice Department.

The Justice Department asked the 11th Circuit late Friday to overturn the portion of Cannon's ruling preventing the review of the roughly 100 classified records, arguing in its appeal that the decision"impedes the government's efforts to protect the nation's security."

The three-judge 11th Circuit ruled unanimously in the Justice Department's favor.

"For our part, we cannot discern why the Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one hundred documents with classification markings," the panel wrote.

"The United States also argues that allowing the special master and plaintiff's counsel to examine the classified records would separately impose irreparable harm," the 11th Circuit judges added. "We agree."

For Trump, the decision came close on the heels of another apparent setback in his response to the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago. At an initial hearing on Tuesday, Dearie bristled at the Trump legal team's resistance to his request for evidence of the former president's claims that he declassified the highly sensitive records discovered at his residence.

Without proof that Trump took that step, Dearie said his sole basis for assessing the classification level of the records would be the clear markings designating them as national security secrets.

"You can't have your cake and eat it," Dearie said.

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