“In a stark repudiation of Donald Trump’s legal arguments, a federal appeals court on Wednesday permitted the Justice Department to resume its use of classified records seized from the former president’s Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit amounts to an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for investigators to continue scrutinizing the documents as they evaluate whether to bring criminal charges over the storage of top-secret records at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House.
The court also pointedly noted that Trump had presented no evidence that he had declassified the sensitive records, as he has repeatedly maintained, and rejected the possibility that Trump could have an “individual interest in or need for” the roughly 100 documents marked as classified.
The government had argued that its investigation had been impeded by an order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred investigators from continuing to use the documents in its probe. Cannon, a Trump appointee, had said the hold would remain in place pending a separate review by an independent arbiter she had appointed at the Trump team’s request.
The appeals panel agreed with the Justice Department’s concerns.
(…) Trump’s lawyers had argued that an independent review of the records was essential given the unprecedented nature of the investigation. The lawyers have also said the department had not yet proven that the seized documents were classified, though they have notably stopped short of asserting — as Trump repeatedly has — that the records were previously declassified.
The Trump team this week resisted providing Dearie with any information to support the idea that the records might have been declassified, signaling the issue could be part of their defense in the event of an indictment.
But the appeals court appeared to scoff at that argument.
“Plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified,” they wrote. “In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal.” (Read more: WABI5) (Archive)