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Mar-a-Lago search: Justice Department appeals ruling requiring special master review

Government officials on Thursday filed a notice in federal court to signal their appeal of a judge’s decision earlier this week to appoint an outside expert to review documents seized by the government during a search last month of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

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U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Monday ruled in favor of granting a special master to review the documents for any that might fall under executive or attorney-client privilege. She also ordered government officials to stop using the records “for investigative purposes” until after the special master review is completed.

On Thursday, government officials said they were appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. They also asked Cannon to allow officials to continue reviewing the classified records seized from Mar-a-Lago.

Last week, officials said in a court filing that they seized over 100 documents marked as classified during the Aug. 8 search.

“The classification levels ranged from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET information, and certain documents included additional sensitive compartments that signify very limited distribution,” officials said. “In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents.”

Attorneys representing Trump argued that the search violated the former president’s Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure and questioned whether it was politically motivated. Cannon on Monday rejected the claim that Trump’s constitutional rights were violated, though she noted that the government acknowledged it had seized items “personal effects without evidentiary value” alongside more than 600 pages of material “potentially subject to attorney-client privilege.”

Government officials argued that a special master review was unnecessary because investigators have already gone through the seized records. They said the search came after authorities exhausted all other options for retrieving confidential records that remained at Mar-a-Lago and that the seizure was necessary for national security.

Authorities searched Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, three days after a judge approved a warrant as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act, as well as obstruction of justice and unlawful concealment or removal of government records.

Officials with the National Archives and Records Administration sought records from Trump throughout 2021 and got 15 boxes of miscellaneous papers – including more than 180 confidential records – in January, according to court records. Officials subsequently served the former president with a grand jury subpoena that prompted him to turn over 38 more classified documents in June, authorities said.

A representative of the president certified that the documents were the last confidential records in boxes taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago after Trump’s presidency. However, officials said they later got information indicating that the former president had failed to turn over all records in his possession, prompting them to seek a warrant to search the estate.

On Monday, Cannon ruled that attorneys for Trump and for the government would have until Friday to submit suggested candidates to serve as special master.

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