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Federal court blocks special master review of seized Trump documents

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A federal appeals court on Thursday stopped the review of government documents seized from the home of former President Donald Trump, by a third party. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
A federal appeals court on Thursday stopped the review of government documents seized from the home of former President Donald Trump, by a third party. File Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Thursday stopped the review of government documents seized from the home of former President Donald Trump, by a third party.

The unanimous ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, means the so-called special master, U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, will no longer have jurisdiction to review and potentially exclude documents from Justice Department officials and prosecutors.

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"This appeal requires us to consider whether the district court had jurisdiction to block the United States from using lawfully seized records in a criminal investigation. The answer is no," the three-judge panel wrote in its ruling.

"The law is clear. 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."

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In August, FBI agents served a warrant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., retrieving thousands of documents from a storage room. Justice Department investigators argued some 300 of those documents were marked as classified and should never have been removed from the White House.

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Trump's lawyers had argued that some of the documents should not be turned over to investigators because they were privileged under the Presidential Records Act.

"But as we have said, the status of a document as personal or presidential does not alter the authority of the government to seize it under a warrant supported by probable cause," the court ruled on Thursday.

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U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, granted a request in September to name a special master to review the documents in response to the ex-president's suggestion that the FBI planted evidence during its search.

The Justice Department opposed Cannon's ruling at the time, arguing she overstepped her bounds. The appeals judges agreed on Thursday.

"Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required," the judges wrote.

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Thursday's ruling comes less than two weeks after the same three federal judges grilled the former president's lawyers over why they believe it was necessary to appoint a special master.

At the time, comments from the three judges -- all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents -- seemed at odds with Trump's lawyers.

"Other than the fact that this involves a former president, everything else about this [case] is indistinguishable," Circuit Judge William Pryor, a George W. Bush appointee, told Trump lawyer James Trusty at the time.

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