A court unblocks the investigation of the secret documents seized from Trump | International

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A court has unblocked this Thursday the investigation by the Department of Justice of the documents classified as confidential or secret that the FBI seized in the registry of Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s mansion in Florida The decision is a setback for the defense strategy of the president, which was at least trying to buy time.

It represents a new procedural blow against the former president on the same day that he and part of his family have been sued by the New York attorney general for the alleged fraudulent management of their businesses.

A federal judge from Florida, Aileen M. Cannon, appointed by Trump himself shortly before his dismissal, ordered the Department of Justice and the FBI to stop their investigative work with all the documents found in the registry while a special expert reviewed them. . The objective was to see if they could affect the attorney-client privilege (which protects professional secrecy in the relations of a person under investigation with their lawyers) or the executive privilege (which allows the executive power to deny information about proceedings in progress to another power, such as the legislative or judicial), despite the fact that Trump no longer holds public office.

The Department of Justice appealed first to Judge Cannon to try to unblock at least the investigation of the hundred secret documents found in the mansion, which practically by definition could not be affected by those wielded privileges. The judge did not respond to her requests and the Prosecutor’s Office appealed to the competent higher court, in this case based in Georgia. It is now those judges who have backed up the arguments of the Prosecutor’s Office with a precautionary measure pending the definitive resolution of the appeal.

“We grant the suspension pending appeal. The district court order is stayed to the extent that it prohibits the use of the classified documents by the Government and requires the Government to submit the classified documents to the special expert for review.”

The measure, adopted by a room of three judges, is a blow to Trump’s interests. Although Trump broke the law by withholding more than 11,000 publicly owned documents, because when presidents leave office they must hand over all documents and records used in office to the National Archives, that rule is not criminal in nature. No one can imagine Trump being charged just because he took unprotected press clippings, photos, letters and other papers. But with the secret documents, things are different: if they put national security at risk, Trump may have committed a crime against the espionage law. And having stated that he did not have them and having resisted handing him over, he is also being investigated for possible obstruction of justice. The judges, therefore, unlock in practice the most relevant aspects of the judicial and police investigation.

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“We cannot discern why the plaintiff [Trump] would have an individual interest or need for any of the hundred documents with classification marks. The classified documents are marked to show that they are classified, for example, with their classification level, ”says the 29-page judicial decision, before the allegations of the former president’s lawyers. “Plaintiff has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents.”

The judges dismantle one of Trump’s defense maneuvers. The former president has assured on his social network that he had declassified all the documents, but his lawyers have not openly argued that in court, because it is an argument that can be turned against him. In addition, the crime is not stealing or retaining classified documents, but rather documents that may affect national security.

The court is blunt: “The plaintiff suggests that he could have declassified these documents when he was president. But the file contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special judge, the plaintiff refused to provide any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents, ”the judges write. “In any case, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or make it personal. Therefore, even if we assume that the plaintiff declassified some or all of the documents, that would not explain why he has a personal interest in them, ”they add.

The stigma of research

The judges also dismantle the thesis that if the State Department investigates these documents before being reviewed by an expert, that could cause irreparable damage to Trump. On the one hand, they emphasize, the former president’s lawyers have not suggested that any of these secret documents affect the attorney-client privilege. On the other hand, if the damage is the stigma of being pointed out by the investigation, “all the possible defendants could point to the same damage” in any other case, so the argument loses force.

In a decision that is also a blow to the arguments of the Florida judge, the court indicates that the Department of Justice needs the documents to investigate, “among other things, the identity of any person who has accessed the classified material; whether any particular classified material has been compromised, and whether there may be further classified material unaccounted for.” Preventing it can harm the Government and the American people, to the extent that it poses risks to national security.

Trump’s lawyers and those of the Department of Justice were already discussing the process of review of the documents by the special expert, the semi-retired Judge Raymond J. Darie. One of the sticking points was whether Trump’s defense could access those documents for review. Now that problem is over. At least as long as another judicial decision does not further entangle the case.

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