Federal appeals court halts Mar-a-Lago special master review

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Thursday halted an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate.

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The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s order that appointed a special master to review the documents, CNN reported. It clears the way for federal prosecutors to use the documents taken by the FBI on Aug. 8 from Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, according to The Associated Press.

The unsigned 21-page ruling was critical of Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s decision in September to intervene in the case, The New York Times reported. The judges ruled that Cannon never had the jurisdiction to rule on the case, according to the newspaper.

“The law is clear,” the appeals judges wrote. “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. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our case law limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations.”

Cannon had agreed to appoint Judge Raymond J. Dearie of Brooklyn, New York, as special master to review the documents, the Post reported. The Justice Department had argued that presidents do not retain executive privilege after leaving office, according to the newspaper.

Trump sought a special master after the FBI executed a court-approved search at Mar-a-Lago, The Washington Post reported. The FBI retrieved more than 13,000 documents related to Trump’s time as president. Approximately 100 of the documents were classified, and some contained sensitive government secrets, the newspaper reported, citing court records.

Trump’s attorneys had argued that the former president was entitled to have a special master conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago, the AP reported.

The new ruling will go into effect in seven days, the appeals judges ruled, according to CNN. A party in the case can seek a stay to pause the ruling from going into effect if the case is appealed.