Appeals court says FBI can use all documents seized in Mar-a-Lago search and ends special master review

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A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has reversed a Florida federal judge’s ruling that has prohibited the FBI from using nearly all documents seized during the 8 August search of former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club to further the criminal probe into the ex-president.

In an unsigned opinion, Chief Judge William Pryor and Circuit Judges Andrew Brasher and Britt Grant wrote that Judge Cannon never had the authority to hear a civil case Mr Trump filed with the aim of stopping the use of the documents as the FBI and Justice Department investigated whether he’d violated criminal laws against unlawful retention of national defence information and obstructing justice.

“The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so,” they wrote. “Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations”.

They added that Mr Trump had satisfied none of the requirements that would have to have been met before Judge Cannon could have issued an injunction to block the probe in any way, and said Mr Trump’s arguments asked them to rewrite US criminal law in a way that would have allowed any subject of a criminal investigation to intervene and block the government from using lawfully-obtained evidence against them.

“He asks us to ignore our precedents finding that a callous disregard for constitutional rights is indispensable. He asks us to conclude that a property interest in a seized item is a sufficient “need” for its immediate return. He asks us to treat any stigma arising from the government’s access to sensitive personal information or the threat of potential prosecution as irreparable injuries. And he asks us to find that he has no other remedy apart from equitable jurisdiction, even though he faces no remediable harm,” they observed before noting that acceptance of Mr Trump’s arguments would force courts “to oversee routine criminal investigations beyond their constitutionally ascribed role of approving a search warrant based on a showing of probable cause”.

“Our precedents do not allow this, and neither does our constitutional structure,” they wrote, adding that the only remaining possible justification for Judge Cannon’s ruling was Mr Trump’s status as a former president.

But the fact that Mr Trump was once president of the United States could have no bearing on their interpretation of the law, the judges said. Creating a special exception for Mr Trump because of the job he once held “would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank,” they added.

Because the court agreed with the government’s contention that Judge Cannon had improperly exceeded her authority, the panel granted the Justice Department’s request to have the entire case thrown out.

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