Washington – The federal criminal investigation into allegations that former President Donald Trump mishandled sensitive White House documents after leaving office must continue unhindered, prosecutors argued in a brief filed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Friday, citing a “demonstrable and specific need” for evidence in his ongoing criminal investigation.
“The Court should… set aside the District Court injunction and end the special master’s review,” prosecutors wrote.
The Justice Department’s filing came in its appeal to the 11th Circuit to overturn a lower court’s decision appointing a special master, or independent arbitrator, to review the thousands of documents seized at Trump’s Mar- a-Lago in August. Prosecutors argued that District Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to grant Trump’s request for an independent review of the records unduly narrowed the government’s investigation into the matter. In Friday’s filing, prosecutors argue Cannon’s decision should be reversed “in its entirety.”
Trump’s lawyers support the decision, write in a precedent that the “unprecedented and flawed” investigation “aims to criminalize the 45th President’s possession of his own presidential and personal records.” The nature of the investigation, they argued, warranted the intervention of a special master and the review of documents potentially restricted under attorney-client or executive privileges.
But in Friday’s filing, the Justice Department said Cannon “erred” when it chose to respond to Trump’s request and intervene in the case, explaining that the investigation team privileges of the department “had already separated all files potentially covered by the privilege”.
And on the issue of executive privilege, prosecutors wrote that there were “no plausible claims of executive privilege that could justify restricting executive review and use of records.” seized in the exercise of essential executive functions”, such as the current investigation.
Since Cannon’s original ruling — which also halted the investigation into the 103 documents with classified marks that were seized at Mar-a-Lago, pending review by the special master — the 11th Circuit has already sided. on the side of the Department of Justice and allowed it to continue reviewing these sensitive documents as its criminal investigation continues, even as the special primary review process continues. Trump appealed the narrow ruling to the Supreme Court, which declined to intervene in an order published Thursday and allowed the criminal investigation to be conducted with the use of sensitive documents.
New York federal judge Raymond Dearie, chosen by Cannon to serve as special counsel at Trump’s suggestion and with the consent of the Justice Department, launched the court-ordered review process last month, asking the parties opposing parties to confer on potential claims of attorney-client and executive privilege. . Already, the Justice Department has said it has made an agreed-upon set of documents available to criminal investigators and Trump’s legal team and referred documents deemed unrelated to the investigation to Trump.
For her part, Judge Cannon overturned some of Dearie’s initial plans for the special master’s process and has the final say on the independent review unless and until the 11th Circuit grants the petition to intervene. Ministry of Justice.
The investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of documents bearing classified marks intensified in August with the execution of a court-authorized search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. This search yielded 33 boxes of material, including 103 documents with classified markings – labeled CONFIDENTIAL, SECRET or TOP SECRET. The boxes also contained nearly 50 empty folders with banners filed on them.
Prosecutors revealed in court documents and proceedings that they were conducting a national security investigation into the case, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was conducting a damages assessment, following the allegedly improperly stored documents.
A person who worked at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort told investigators the former president ordered the individual to move boxes of documents – including those that may contain classified marks – to a another location inside Mar-a-Lago pending federal investigation. in Trump’s handling of certain files was already underway, according to a person familiar with the matter.
According to the source, the individual said Trump ordered the boxes moved both before and after the Justice Department issued a subpoena in May for classified documents in Trump’s possession, and investigators have since seized video footage of the moved boxes – evidence that contributed to the FBI’s decision to execute the search warrant.
The former president denied all wrongdoing and accused the Biden administration of “weaponiz[ing] law enforcement and fabricated a document hoax in a desperate attempt to retain political power. »
The Justice Department, however, argued that its actions in the investigations were justified, writing on Friday that investigators “first searched for these records through voluntary requests” before seeking a court-authorized search warrant.
“It was only when investigators learned that the plaintiff’s response was likely incomplete that they applied for a search warrant.”
Prosecutors say they need unfettered access to files with classified marks and those without. According to Friday’s brief, the sensitive documents “may constitute evidence in the event of obstruction of justice” – pointing to allegations that Trump’s team may not have been entirely honest with investigators – and the Unclassified records could help, “identify who was responsible for the unauthorized retention of these records, the relevant time periods during which the records were created or viewed, and who may have accessed or viewed them.”
Overall, they write, “the District Court erred in requiring the government to submit one of the seized documents to the special master review process.”