November 28, 2022

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday expressed deep skepticism that former President Donald Trump had the right to challenge an FBI search of his Florida home or have an independent arbitrator review documents confiscated from the home.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, including two Trump-appointed individuals, has repeatedly suggested Trump is seeking special treatment, asking the “special master” to conduct an independent inspection of records used at of the August 8 search were recorded Mar-a-Lago.

“Other than the fact that it’s a former president, everything else is indistinguishable from a pre-prosecution search warrant,” said William Pryor, the court’s presiding judge and a judge appointed by George W. Bush.

He added, “We have to be concerned about the precedent we would set that would allow any target of a federal criminal investigation to go to a district court and have a district court review that type of petition … and intervene with the.” ongoing investigations by the executive branch.”

The judges indicated through their questioning that they would likely side with the Justice Department, which has sought an immediate end to a special master’s review process that it says is continuing its investigation into the presence of classified documents at Mar-a- Lago unnecessarily delayed. It was not immediately clear when the court might decide.

In another legal setback for Trump, the Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for a congressional committee to get his tax returns after a three-year struggle.

The special master in the Mar-a-Lago case, veteran New York judge Raymond Dearie, was appointed in September at the request of the Trump team. He was tasked with subjecting the approximately 13,000 documents seized during the search to an independent review and filtering out those from the criminal investigation that could possibly be covered by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

FILE - An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida on August 31, 2022.
FILE – An aerial view of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida on August 31, 2022.

The Florida judge who appointed him, Aileen Cannon, had prevented federal prosecutors from using the confiscated records as part of their investigation into Dearie’s work. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals later restored the Justice Department’s access to the roughly 100 documents with classification marks, but prosecutors say they want full access to the much larger trove of unclassified records and have asked the court to close the process to end.

Two of the judges in that decision — Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher, both Trump appointees — took part in Tuesday’s arguments.

Although the probe is focused on the possible misuse of classified records, the Justice Department says it also considers the unclassified documents found at Mar-a-Lago to be relevant to the probe. That’s because it was mixed up with classified documents from personal records that prosecutors say could provide important evidence as to who owned or handled the records.

In court documents, the Justice Department has said the only purpose it has been able to use the unclassified documents for so far was to have a “protracted dispute” with the Trump team over their categorization.

CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 27: This image shows pages from the government released version of the FBI search warrant affidavit on former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home on August 27, 2022 in California.  The 32-page affidavit was heavily redacted to protect witnesses and law enforcement officials and to ensure the
CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 27: This image shows pages from the government released version of the FBI search warrant affidavit on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home on August 27, 2022 in California. The 32-page affidavit was heavily redacted to protect witnesses and law enforcement officials and to ensure the “integrity of the ongoing investigation.” (Photo illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Mario Tama via Getty Images

James Trusty, Trump’s attorney, called the Justice Department’s arguments that its investigation had been slowed down “exaggerated.” He said the department already had access to the classified documents and he downplayed the importance of the remaining materials, describing them as birthday cards, thank-you notes, photos and other personal items.

“It’s not realistic for the government to complain that this has affected their ability to investigate,” Trusty said.

He suggested that the search warrant had resulted in an overly broad seizure of materials, although Pryor noted, “I don’t think it’s necessarily the government’s fault if someone has mixed classified documents and all kinds of other personal property.”

Trusty denied that he was seeking special treatment for Trump, but also urged the judges to consider the context of the case. “This is a situation where a political rival has been subjected to a search warrant and thousands of personal materials have been stolen,” he said.

But when Trusty once called the FBI raid a “raid,” Judge Grant, a Trump-appointed official, chided him and asked if “raid was the right term for executing a warrant.” Trusty apologized for using a “charged term”.

In addition to a criminal investigation into the storage of the documents and a possible hindrance, the special master’s procedure is underway.

Attorney General Merrick Garland last week appointed a veteran prosecutor, Jack Smith, to serve as special counsel and oversee the Mar-a-Lago investigation and key aspects of a separate investigation into efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election.

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