A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to block part of a judge’s ruling preventing the government from carrying out part of its investigation involving documents marked as classified retrieved by the FBI at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate.
The stay, from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit based in Atlanta, comes after U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon granted Trump a major win last week when she appointed a special master to review the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, while also determining that the Justice Department could not resume its investigation of classified documents retrieved from Trump’s residence.
The Justice Department appealed the ruling late Friday to the 11th Circuit, dominated by Trump appointees, in a move that some observers suggested was a risky one. But on Wednesday, the appeals court decided in the Justice Department’s favor, although it noted that its decision is on the narrow question of whether the government may continue its investigation involving around 100 classified documents alone – and not on the merits of the case at large.
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The three-judge panel determined that Trump “does not have a possessory interest in the documents at issue, so he does not suffer a cognizable harm if the United States reviews documents he neither owns nor has a personal interest in.” The panel also suggested that they doubted the claim from Trump’s team that the former president would be harmed by a criminal investigation, while noting that because of the nature of the classified materials, the use of the materials by DOJ does not pose a risk of disclosure of Trump’s privileged information.
The judges also noted that Trump “has not even attempted to show that he has a need
to know the information contained in the classified documents,” adding that his team also has not “established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents.”
The development comes after Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department met with a court-appointed third-party reviewer Tuesday in their first conference over the handling and review of materials taken from the former president’s Florida estate last month. The panel of judges from the 11th Circuit asserted on Wednesday that sharing the classified documents with the special master would cause “irreparable harm.”