Justice Department can resume Trump documents review, court rules

Former president says he declassified government documents found at his home and that he could do so 'even by thinking about it'

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A US appeals court has ruled that the Justice Department can resume reviewing documents seized by the FBI from Donald Trump's home in Florida, giving the department a victory as it investigates whether or not the former president mishandled classified records.

The Atlanta-based 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals granted federal prosecutors' request to block an order from District Judge Aileen Cannon barring them from using the documents in their investigation until a special master determines which materials could be withheld from investigators under attorney-client privilege.

Lawyers for Mr Trump had requested the appeals court to uphold Ms Cannon's ruling.

“We cannot discern why the plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the 100 documents with classification markings,” the three-judge panel said in its filing.

The court also agreed to reverse the lower court's order that required the government to hand over classified records for the special master's review.

“We conclude that the United States would suffer irreparable harm from the district court’s restrictions on its access to this narrow — and potentially critical — set of materials, as well as the court’s requirement that the United States submit the classified records to the special master for review,” court said.

The appeals court noted its decision was “limited in nature”, as the Justice Department had only asked for a partial stay pending appeal.

In an interview with Fox News on Wednesday night, Mr Trump repeated his claim, which has not been backed by evidence, that he declassified the documents and that he could do so “even by thinking about it”. The appeals court rejected his argument.

“[The] plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was president. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified,” the court said.

It added that lawyers for Mr Trump have resisted providing evidence to the special master in the case demonstrating that the former president had declassified the documents.

Those records are at the centre of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department as to whether the former president violated federal laws by taking troves of documents with him to his Mar-a-Lago resort after he left the White House in 2021.

Mr Trump's lawyers could potentially ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: September 22, 2022, 4:33 PM