Tuesday, federal appeals judges seemed doubtful that former President Trump should have been given a special master from a third party to look over the documents in his Florida home. This is because the Justice Department is working on getting rid of the appointment.
Lawyers for the DOJ and Trump went to Atlanta to face a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. This is the latest battleground as the Justice Department tries to get faster access to more than 22,000 pages of government documents stored at Mar-a-Lago.
During one of the arguments, one of the judges asked, “What are we doing here?” This did not look good for the Trump team. Two Trump appointees, Judge Britt Grant and Judge Andrew Brasher were on the bench. In the past, they sided with the Justice Department and agreed with its request to take the classified information out of the particular master review and give it to investigators.
But the Justice Department wants to get the remaining documents faster so it can use them in its investigation. This could help it get ahead of any legal challenges to the review by Judge Raymond Dearie, who is called the “special master.”
Grant cut off Trump’s attorney James Trusty almost as soon as he called the search of Trump’s home a raid. Trusty apologized for using “a loaded term” when the judge asked if it would be more accurate to call it the execution of a search warrant.
At another point, Chief Judge William Pryor, who George W. Bush appointed, asked why Trump should get a thorough review of the things that were found during the search of his home when few other criminal defendants, let alone people who haven’t been charged yet, get the same chance.
“Except for the fact that the former president is involved, this is just like any other pre-indictment search warrant,” said Pryor. “And we have to worry about setting a precedent that would let anyone who is the subject of a federal criminal investigation go to a district court and have a district court hear this kind of petition… and mess with the ongoing investigation by the executive branch.”
This is a situation where a political rival has been subjected to a search warrant [where] thousands of personal materials have been taken,” he said. “This is a case where a political rival was given a search warrant and had thousands of personal items taken from them.”
But at another point, Pryor seemed angry that Trusty hadn’t shown that he could meet one of the essential requirements for getting back property that the government had taken, which is that the government had established a blatant disregard for a plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
“The entire premise of the exercise of this extraordinary kind of jurisdiction would be that the seizure itself is unlawful,” he said. “And if you can’t prove that, why are we even here?” Tuesday, the Justice Department spoke out against using a special master.
“What he wants is not the papers back. “As I said, he already has them back,” Sopan Joshi said on behalf of the government. “What he wants is to stop the government from using the documents, and I’m not sure that would ever be a good reason,” he said, adding that such a move would usually be made through a motion to suppress evidence at a later time.
Joshi also said that Trump’s lawyers had come up with a long list of supposed rights to get the records from prosecutors. Joshi said that at first, Trump’s lawyers brought up issues of attorney-client privilege and then later brought up issues of executive privilege. They also said that some of the documents might have been declassified, and then they moved to say that some of the presidential records might be his personal property.
“This just shows how strange and unusual what the district court did in this case was,” he said. The hearing was the latest thing to happen in the Mar-a-Lago case since Attorney General Merrick Garland named Jack Smith as a special counsel to handle both the documents investigation and the DOJ investigation into what happened during the Capitol riot.
Trump’s lawyers also said in court that their case was weaker because they hadn’t seen an unredacted copy of the warrant used to get into Trump’s home.
Trump’s team asked Florida District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who first appointed the special master, to force DOJ to release the warrant. However, it’s unclear whether such a request should be sent to Judge Bruce Reinhart, who first approved the document.
Dearie, the special master, is set to hold a status conference with the two sides next week, where Trusty said they would review some 930 remaining documents. “The big swaths of that will be decided with a legal ruling rather than kind of a one-by-one look at the document,” he said.
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