March 30, 2023

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Florida federal judge’s order that effectively barred the Justice Department from further criminal investigations into former President Donald Trump and his associates using classified documents found at his Palm Beach home.

In an opinion released late Wednesday, Circuit Judges Robin Rosenbaum, Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said they agreed with the government’s argument that District Judge Eileen Cannon “probably erred in practice … in jurisdictions ordered to use classified records of the United States. Criminal investigations and The United States must submit identified classified documents to a special master for review”.

“For our part, we do not see why plaintiff would have a personal interest in or need for any of the hundreds of documents with classification marks,” they said.

The judges added that Mr Trump “did not even attempt to show that he had a need to know the information contained in the classified documents”.

“And he has not established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents. And even if he had, that would not by itself explain why the plaintiff has a personal interest in the classified documents”.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed that he released some or all of the documents stored at his Florida home during his presidency. But his lawyers did not go so far as to echo these claims, and only claimed that the documents contained classified markings.

The panel noted that Mr. Trump’s lawyers had “provided no evidence that any of these records have been released,” despite the former president’s advice, and resisted making such an argument in a hearing with the special master charged with reviewing it. New York-based federal judge Raymond Deary documents at a hearing in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

“In any event, at least for this purpose, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it private. So even if we assume that the plaintiff disclosed some or all of the document, that would not explain Why does he have personal interest in them,” they said.

The ruling by three 11th Circuit judges — two of whom were named to the bench by Mr. Trump — means the Justice Department will be able to use 100 classified documents that the FBI seized during an Aug. 8 search of his home. A criminal investigation into whether the twice-impeached former president violated the mishandling of national defense information and obstruction of justice laws.

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