The “special master” procedure for evaluating records seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence has been terminated, according to an appeals court, giving the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal probe a substantial boost.
Trump’s objections to the search should have been swiftly dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled on Thursday by a vote of 3 to 0.
The Justice Department’s investigation was postponed by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida so that a special master, a court-appointed arbitrator, could review the seized documents and determine whether some of them were privileged and should be kept secret from federal investigators, according to the unanimous decision.
“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 three-judge panel wrote. Doing so, it wrote, would amount to a “radical reordering of our case law limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations.”
Trump shouldn’t be granted any preferential treatment as a result of his standing as a former president, the judges continued.
“To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank,” the panel said.
To give Trump time to decide whether to request a review before the whole 11th Circuit bench or to appeal to the Supreme Court, the judges put a one-week stay on the decision’s taking effect.
Republican presidents all nominated the three judges on the panel—Chief Judge William Pryor, Judge Britt Grant, and Judge Andrew Brasher—to the bench. Judge Grant and Judge Brasher were appointed by Trump. George W. Bush, a former president, selected Chief Judge Pryor.
The judgment was made “per curiam,” which means that all of the judges concurred and that no one judge wrote it.
“The decision does not address the merits that clearly demonstrate the impropriety of the unprecedented, illegal, and unwarranted raid on Mar-a-Lago,” adding that Mr. Trump would “continue to fight against the weaponized Department of ‘Justice,’ while standing for America and Americans,” a spokesperson for Trump stated.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
“This complete rejection of the special master and injunction will unmistakably expedite the investigation,” said Brandon Van Grack, a former Justice Department national-security lawyer.
Senior U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, who is functioning as the special master, will probably wait for further guidance from Judge Cannon before moving forward with his job, according to Van Grack.
A search of Trump’s Florida home by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on August 8 resulted in the removal of more than twenty boxes, including 11 sets of classified documents, from the property.
In order to prevent protected communications from being used in the inquiry, Mr. Trump’s attorneys requested the appointment of a special master following the search.
Judge Cannon granted the request, stating that the appointment of a special master would guarantee Trump’s fair treatment and increase public confidence in the inquiry. She selected respected semi-retired judge Dearie for the position.
While working with the special master’s review procedure, which was due to be completed in December, the Justice Department also requested that Judge Cannon’s appointment be overturned by the 11th Circuit.
The appeals court’s ruling was announced on the same day that Dearie set a deadline for the Justice Department and Mr. Trump’s attorneys to explain how they had classified the papers under examination.
In September, the 11th Circuit granted federal investigators access to around 100 secret documents that had been taken from Mar-a-Lago, giving the Justice Department a preliminary victory.