Court permits Justice Department to use classified records seized in Trump raid

The ruling from the three-judge panel amounts to an overwhelming victory for the department.

Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio
Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio

A US court has allowed the Justice Department to resume its use of classified records seized from former president Donald Trump’s Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation.

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit amounts to an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for investigators to continue examining the documents as they consider whether to bring criminal charges over the storage of of top-secret records at Mar-a-Lago after Mr Trump left the White House.

In lifting a hold on a core aspect of the department’s probe, the court removed an obstacle that could have delayed the investigation by weeks if not months.

The appeals court also pointedly noted Mr Trump had presented no evidence he had declassified the sensitive records, as he has repeatedly maintained, and rejected the possibility he could have an “individual interest in or need for” the roughly 100 documents with classification markings that were seized by the FBI in its August 8 search of the Palm Beach property.

The government had argued that its investigation had been impeded, and national security concerns swept aside, by an order from US District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred investigators from continuing to use the documents in its inquiry.

Ms 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 to review the records.

The appeals panel agreed with the Justice Department’s concerns.

“It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of the classified records did not result in ‘exceptionally grave damage to the national security,’” they wrote.

“Ascertaining that,” they added, “necessarily involves reviewing the documents, determining who had access to them and when, and deciding which (if any) sources or methods are compromised.”

An injunction that delayed or prevented the criminal investigation “from using classified materials risks imposing real and significant harm on the United States and the public”, they wrote.

Two of the three judges who issued Wednesday’s ruling — Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher — were nominated to the 11th Circuit by Mr Trump. Judge Robin Rosenbaum was nominated by former president Barack Obama.

Lawyers for Mr Trump did not return an email seeking comment on whether they would appeal the ruling. The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.

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