A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a Florida federal judge’s order which effectively barred the Department of Justice from using classified documents found at former president Donald Trump’s Palm Beach home to further a criminal investigation into him and his associates.
In an opinion released late Wednesday, Circuit Judges Robin Rosenbaum, Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher said they agreed with the government’s argument that District Judge Aileen Cannon “likely erred in exercising … jurisdiction to enjoin the United States’s use of the classified records in its criminal investigation and to require the United States to submit the marked classified documents to a special master for review”.
“For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings,” they said.
The judges added that Mr Trump “has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents”.
“Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents. And even if he had, that, in and of itself, would not explain why Plaintiff has an individual interest in the classified documents”.
Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that he declassified some or all of the document he hoarded at his Florida home during his presidency. But his lawyers have not gone so far as to echo those claims, and have only claimed that the documents bear classification markings.
The panel noted that Mr Trump’s lawyers have provided “no evidence that any of these records were declassified” despite suggestions by the ex-president that he may have done so, and resisted making such an argument in a hearing with the special master charged with reviewing the documents, New York-based federal judge Raymond Dearie, at a hearing in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
“In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal. So even if we assumed that Plaintiff did declassify some or all of the documents, that would not explain why he has a personal interest in them,” they said.
The ruling by the three 11th Circuit judges — two of whom were named to the bench by Mr Trump — means the Department of Justice will be able to use the 100 classified documents the FBI seized during the 8 August search of his home to further its criminal investigation into whether the twice-impeached ex-president violated laws prohibiting mishandling of national defence information and obstruction of justice.