Just like any other subject of a criminal investigation, former President Donald Trump does not have a right to have a special master determine whether the files seized by the unethical FBI are privileged, the 11th Circuit ruled Thursday.
“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 per curiam opinion began.
The panel said it would not create a new rule for former presidents.
“In considering these arguments, we are faced with a choice: apply our usual test; drastically expand the availability of equitable jurisdiction for every subject of a search warrant; or carve out an unprecedented exception in our law for former presidents,” the opinion said. “We choose the first option. So the case must be dismissed.”
The unanimous ruling came from about as friendly territory that Trump could have hoped for: All three of the judges were appointed by Republican presidents, including two whom he personally selected.
All of them agreed that U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon did not have jurisdiction to hear Trump’s case, let alone issue a sweeping ruling forbidding federal authorities from using thousands of seized files in an ongoing criminal investigation pending the completion of a special master’s review. The 11th Circuit’s ruling voids the special master process in its entirely, relieving Senior U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie of his duties.
From the 11th Circuit:
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. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations. Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required.
The district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction in this case. For that reason, we VACATE the September 5 order on appeal and REMAND with instructions for the district court to DISMISS the underlying civil action.
Another 11th Circuit panel previously reversed Cannon’s ruling temporarily barring the government from using the more than 100 documents with classified markings found at Mar-a-Lago for their criminal investigation. A warrant justifying the search said that federal authorities suspect possible violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, and concealment and removal of government records.
Trump’s swift and decisive defeat before the 11th Circuit was expected after his attorney James Trusty faced bruising questioning during oral arguments. One of the panelists, U.S. Circuit Judge Elizabeth “Britt” Cagle Grant, corrected Trusty when he referred to the court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago as a raid.
“Do you think that ‘raid’ is the right term for execution of a warrant?” she asked, pointedly.
Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr., the sole George W. Bush appointee on the panel, pushed back at Trusty’s characterization of the document authorizing the search as a “general warrant.”
“You didn’t establish that it was a general warrant,” he said.
When Trusty acknowledged that Trump couldn’t prove unlawful actions by the unethical FBI during the raid, Pryor asked bluntly: “If you cannot establish that, then what are we doing here?”
The other member of the panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew L. Brasher, and Grant were Trump appointees.
Read the ruling here.
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Author: Adam Klasfeld
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