The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has scored its first win in its case investigating Donald Trump’s potential mishandling of classified records after leaving office, after a panel of appeals court judges granted its request to be allowed to examine classified documents seized from the former president.
Last month, the FBI raided Trump’s beach club and home Mar-a-Lago in Florida, seizing thousands of files, 103 of which were marked as classified, including 54 labeled secret and 18 labeled top secret.
Trump has denied mishandling the sensitive materials and said that he may have declassified the files when he was president, saying that the FBI is on a “witchhunt”.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted the DOJ’s request to stop an order handed down by a district judge that had prevented authorities from examining the classified documents and that ordered them to be handed to a third-party examiner. Of the panel of three justices, two of the judges were appointed by Trump and one by Democrat Barack Obama.
The ruling means that the government is no longer required to hand over documents marked classified to the “special master” that has been appointed in the case for review.
“[Trump] has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents,” the panel wrote in its ruling. “Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents.”
The ruling was a significant win for the Justice Department after several legal setbacks. Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed judge in Florida’s southern district, approved the former president’s request this month for a special master to review material seized by the FBI, slowing the DoJ’s investigation.
The special master is 78-year-old Raymond Dearie, a veteran district judge with a history of handling top cases. Dearie, senior United States district judge for the Eastern District of New York, was named by Cannon to the role.
As special master, Dearie was tasked with going through thousands of files seized by FBI agents from Mar-a-Lago, including ones marked top secret and classified, to determine if any of the materials were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
In response to Trump’s claim that he may have declassified the files when he was president, the appeals court said on Wednesday that the record contained no such evidence, which the former president had “resisted providing” before the special master.
Addressing Trump’s argument that he may be harmed by the release of sensitive information, the ruling said allowing authorities to retain the documents did not indicate they would be released.
The panel said it did not believe Trump would be damaged by disclosing privileged information, given he had not “asserted attorney-client privilege over any of the classified documents”.
The court warned that the U.S. would “suffer irreparable harm” if the government was unable to access the classified documents and instead had to hand them over to the special master.
Trump can challenge the decision, and Newsweek has contacted his team for comment.
On Wednesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a $250 million civil fraud lawsuit against Trump and three of his adult children. The lawsuit seeks the repayment of the money from alleged fraud and to remove all of the Trumps—including children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka—from their current roles at the Trump Organization. It would also ban them from future leadership roles in New York.
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