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DOJ appeals special master appointment over Trump documents, bringing case to Atlanta

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed to appeal a Florida federal judge's decision to appoint a special master in the case.

ATLANTA — The legal battle over documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate last month is coming to Atlanta.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed to appeal a Florida federal judge's decision to appoint a special master in the case.

That appeal of the special master will be heard at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The 11th Circuit covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. 

The special master would review the documents for possible executive or attorney-client privilege issues before they can be used in the ongoing DOJ investigation of Trump's inappropriate retention of sensitive material from the White House.

RELATED: Florida judge faces criticism following order in Trump case

In the search of Trump's estate last month, the FBI reportedly seized materials including 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records.

A DOJ filing opposing a special master said it would "significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests." It also argued that "the government’s filter team has already completed its work of segregating any seized materials that are potentially subject to attorney-client privilege" and "the government’s investigative team has already reviewed all of the remaining materials, including any that are potentially subject to claims of executive privilege."

That filing included a photo showing the cover pages of a smattering of paperclip-bound classified documents — some marked as “TOP SECRET//SCI” with bright yellow borders, and one marked as “SECRET//SCI” with a rust-colored border — along with whited-out pages, splayed out on a carpet at Mar-a-Lago.

But U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida ruled in favor of Trump's request for a special master, and issued an injunction that will prevent the DOJ from - for now - using any of the seized materials as part of its investigation in the storage of government secrets Mar-a-Lago.

Cannon wrote that she was "mindful that restraints on criminal prosecutions are disfavored" but "these unprecedented circumstances call for a brief pause to allow for neutral, third-party review to ensure a just process with adequate safeguards."

The move was cheered by Trump supporters seeking a check on the government's probe. But others said Cannon gave undue deference to the former president - who appointed her in Nov. 2020. They argued she has slowed the momentum of the federal investigation into possible Espionage Act violations.

Brandon Fox, a former federal prosecutor and current L.A. defense attorney, told the Associated Press the special master decision created the appearance that "Mr. Trump is getting special benefit” as a former president.

Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, told Fox News that the opinion was “deeply flawed in a number of ways.”

He said the government "has very strong evidence of what it needs to determine whether charges [are] appropriate, which is government documents were taken, classified information was taken and not handled appropriately."

"And none of that really relates to the content of documents; it relates to the fact that there were documents there and the fact that they were classified, and the fact that they were subpoenaed and were never delivered," Barr added.

He said he thought a DOJ appeal would win.


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