A unanimous federal appeals panel ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Trump’s Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information. The decision is a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the Associated Press reports. It was a sharp repudiation of arguments by Trump’s lawyers, who for months had said that the former president was entitled to have a “special master” conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from the property.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had been expected given skeptical questions the judges directed at a Trump lawyer during arguments last week, and because two of the three judges had ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special master. The new opinion rejected each argument by Trump and his attorneys for why a special master was necessary, including his claims that various seized records were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. “It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the judges wrote. The Justice Department objected to the special master appointment, saying it was an unnecessary hindrance to its criminal investigation and that Trump had no credible basis to invoke either attorney-client privilege or executive privilege to shield the records from investigators.