WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court on Wednesday permitted the Justice Department to resume its use of classified records seized from the former president's Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation.
The ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit amounts to an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for investigators to continue scrutinizing the documents as they evaluate whether to bring criminal charges over the storage of top-secret records at Mar-a-Lago after former President Donald Trump left the White House.
The court also pointedly noted that Trump had presented no evidence that he had declassified the sensitive records, as he has repeatedly maintained, and rejected the possibility that Trump could have an 'individual interest in or need for' the roughly 100 documents marked as classified.
The government had argued that its investigation had been impeded by an order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred investigators from continuing to use the documents in its probe. Cannon, a Trump appointee, had said the hold would remain in place pending a separate review by an independent arbiter she had appointed at the Trump team's request.
The appeals panel agreed with the Justice Department's concerns.
'It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of the classified records did not result in 'exceptionally grave damage to the national security,'' they wrote. 'Ascertaining that,' they added, 'necessarily involves reviewing the documents, determining who had access to them and when, and deciding which (if any) sources or methods are compromised.'
An injunction that delayed or prevented the criminal investigation 'from using classified materials risks imposing real and significant harm on the United States and the public.'
Two of the three judges who issued Wednesday's ruling - Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher - were nominated to the 11th Circuit by Trump. Judge Robin Rosenbaum was nominated by former President Barack Obama.
The FBI last month seized roughly 11,000 documents, including about 100 with classification markings, during a court-authorized search of the Palm Beach club. It has launched a criminal investigation into whether the records were mishandled or compromised. It is not clear whether Trump or anyone else will be charged.