A federal appeals court panel signaled on Tuesday that it is likely to end a special review of a trove of government documents seized this summer from former President Trump, a move that would greatly free up an investigation into his handling of the material. At a 40-minute hearing in Atlanta, the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit seemed to embrace the Justice Department’s position that a federal judge had acted improperly two months ago when she ordered an independent arbiter to review the documents taken from Trump’s Florida compound, Mar-a- Lago, reports the New York Times. The panel expressed concern that Judge Aileen Cannon, who appointed the so-called special master, had acted without precedent by ordering a review of the seized material. Panel members suggested that Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, had overstepped by inserting herself into the case and trying to bar the government from using the records in its investigation into whether Trump had illegally kept national security records at Mar-a-Lago and obstructed the government’s repeated efforts to retrieve them. The hearing was the latest development in the protracted legal fight over Trump’s handling of nearly 13,000 government documents and photographs, including some marked as highly classified.
Justice Department lawyers told the panel there was no precedent for Cannon to have interfered in a case in which charges had not been filed. DOJ also argued that Cannon should not have gotten involved because no evidence existed that the search of Mar-a-Lago had been unlawful. Just before the hearing began, Trump’s lawyers filed an unusual request to Cannon, asking her to make public the entire affidavit the FBI used to obtain a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago in August. A redacted version was released a few weeks after the search. An unredacted copy would give Trump’s lawyers access to sensitive information like the witnesses prosecutors had interviewed or other details that might shed light on the Justice Department’s inquiry. Information like that would prove useful should the lawyers seek to challenge the legality of the search or begin to craft a defense against potential criminal charges. Asking Cannon to consider unsealing the warrant affidavit would also ensure her continued involvement in the documents inquiry even if the appeals court dismisses her special master order.