A federal appeals court said Wednesday that the Justice Department may resume using classified documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s estate in Florida in its criminal investigation.
The Justice Department had appealed a ruling this month by Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred her from reviewing and using seized materials for investigative purposes.
The appeals court panel, made up of two Trump appointees and one Obama appointee, flatly rejected Trump’s position on the classified documents and parts of Cannon’s reasoning for issuing his original order. The appeals court said that among the factors under consideration was whether or not Trump had an individual interest in or need for the classified documents, which the district court had not mentioned in its analysis.
“Plaintiff has not even attempted to show that he needs to know the information contained in the classified documents,” the panel wrote in Wednesday’s opinion.
The justices went on to argue that certain documents are considered classified because they contain information that could harm national security, and for that reason people can access them only if they need to know that information.
“This requirement applies equally to former presidents, unless the current administration, in its discretion, chooses to waive that requirement,” they wrote, adding that Trump had not established that the Biden administration had waived its requirement for the documents. .
Trump earlier claimed that he had declassified confidential documents found in his Florida home, a claim that the US district judge would be providing “a defense on the merits of any subsequent prosecution.”
The appeals court panel also on Wednesday rejected Cannon’s reasoning that his order would not stand in the way of risk assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, calling the distinction between risk assessment and criminal investigation as “unsustainable”.
The Justice Department had argued that Cannon’s order disrupted the intelligence community’s ability to review the national security risks posed by improper storage of the documents.
Cannon said last week that she was not prepared to accept all of the department’s claims at face value without the special master review process.
But the appeals panel rejected that claim on Wednesday, arguing that nothing “beyond speculation” had been offered to undermine the government’s sworn testimony that the findings of the criminal investigation could be critical to its national security review.
The Justice Department previously said its criminal investigation would seek to identify anyone who accessed the classified materials, whether they had been compromised and whether additional classified materials were missing.
“It would be difficult, if not impossible, for the United States to answer these critical questions if its criminal investigators are not allowed to review seized classified materials,” the appeals court wrote.
The appeals court ruling was the second legal blow to Trump on Wednesday. Earlier that day, New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump, his three oldest children and the Trump Organization in connection with her year-long civil investigation into the company’s business practices.
Source : www.nbcnews.com