Appeals panel grills Trump lawyer over FBI search of Mar-a-Lago


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ATLANTA — A panel of three appeals court judges expressed deep skepticism Tuesday that the federal government violated former president Donald Trump’s rights when it searched Mar-a-Lago in August, questioning whether a lower-court judge erred in appointing an outside expert to review documents seized from the Florida property.

During oral arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the government said the neutral arbiter, known as a special master, should never have been appointed. Justice Department attorney Sopan Joshi told the judges Trump has failed to prove that he suffered the “irreparable harm” from the FBI search that would legally necessitate a special master. Joshi called the appointment an “intrusion” on the executive branch.

In response, James Trusty, an attorney for Trump, argued that a special master appointment didn’t significantly hamper the criminal investigation of potential mishandling of classified documents, obstruction and destruction of government property. Trusty said that during the “carte blanche” Aug. 8 search of Trump’s home and private club, agents wrongly took personal items including golf shirts and a photo of singer Celine Dion.

But that argument didn’t seem to win over the judges, who repeatedly said Trump’s team has not proven that he needs these items returned to him or that the search was an overreach. Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. voiced concern about the precedent the case could create by allowing the target of a search warrant to go into court and request a special master that could interfere with an executive branch investigation before an indictment is ever issued.

A judge directly asked Trusty if anyone who is the subject of a federal search should be allowed to request a special master. Trusty responded that this search is unique, saying Trump is a “political rival” of the sitting president.

Pryor also seemed to criticize Trump’s team for asking for a special master without proving that the search was illegal.

“If you can’t establish that it was unlawful,” he said, “then what are we doing here?”

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The special master case originated in the Florida courtroom of U.S. Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who sided with Trump in September by appointing a special master and barring the Justice Department from using the seized materials — including 103 documents marked as classified — until the outside examination concluded. She ordered the special master to determine if any of the documents should be shielded from criminal investigators because Trump could rightfully claim certain privileges over them.

Pryor and Judges Andrew L. Brasher and Britt C. Grant heard the appeal Tuesday of Cannon’s decision. Pryor, the former attorney general of Alabama, was nominated by President George W. Bush. Brasher and Grant are Trump nominees and were on the three-judge panel that ruled against Trump earlier this fall on limited aspects of the special master appointment.

Joshi, who argued Tuesday’s case for the Justice Department, is a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice…



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