Appeals court expedites DOJ challenge to Mar-a-Lago special master

Steve Helber/AP Photo

A federal appeals court agreed on Wednesday to expedite consideration of a Justice Department’s bid to shut down the external review process for the 11,000 documents seized by the FBI during its August raid of former President Donald Trump’s residence.

The Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order Wednesday morning setting tighter deadlines in the government’s appeal to remove what prosecutors contend is an unnecessary obstacle to their investigation into potentially illegal retention of classified information, theft of government records and obstruction of justice.

The schedule set by the appeals court for legal briefing on the issue is not quite as rapid as the Justice Department proposed, but is faster than Trump’s legal team urged. Under the new schedule, Trump’s lawyers would have to stake out their position in the dispute by Nov. 10 and briefing would be complete by Nov. 17.

“No extensions allowed,” Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote, indicating that he had consulted with Chief Judge William Pryor on the plan.

No date was set Wednesday for oral argument, but Adalberto’s order said a “special merits panel” would be assigned to the case.

The legal fight over the documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida has now proliferated into four arenas: the Florida courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who first approved the former president’s request for a special master; the Brooklyn courtroom of the special master she appointed, senior Judge Raymond Dearie; the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

Just Tuesday, Trump drew the Supreme Court into the fray, asking Justice Clarence Thomas, who oversees the 11th Circuit, to restore Dearie’s authority to review about 100 documents with classification markings.

The multiple moving parts, and the way they interact with each other, have complicated the status of Trump’s legal plight, though it has largely left the Justice Department free to advance its criminal probe into his handling of the highly sensitive documents recovered from his estate.

Dearie is currently reviewing 11,000 unclassified documents seized by the FBI during its Aug. 8 search of the Mar-a-Lago premises, and he had asked Trump for evidence to support his claims that the FBI may have manipulated evidence. Cannon, however, overruled Dearie’s request for this information and extended the timetable for the review at Trump’s urging.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit, meanwhile, dealt Cannon her own setback recently, overturning her decision to include 100 documents with classification markings in Dearie’s review and enjoining the Justice Department’s criminal probe. That is the ruling Trump’s team is seeking to have partially halted at the Supreme Court.

The 11th Circuit has an unusually large complement of Trump appointees. Six of the 11 active judges were tapped by Trump and seven of them are Republican appointees.

Adalberto, who issued the scheduling order Wednesday, is an appointee of President Barack Obama. Pryor was appointed by President George H.W. Bush. Cannon is a Trump appointee and Dearie was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.