Judge formally dismisses Trump’s challenge of Mar-a-Lago search

A federal judge on Monday formally dismissed a lawsuit brought by former President Donald Trump that challenged the FBI’s search earlier this year of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

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The one-page order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon came after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted an independent review of documents seized in August. In an opinion issued Dec. 1, the three-judge panel said the district court lacked the jurisdiction to block the government from using records lawfully seized as part of a criminal investigation.

“The law is clear,” the judges wrote in their 21-page opinion. “We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so. Either approach would be a radical reordering of our caselaw limiting the federal courts’ involvement in criminal investigations. And both would violate bedrock separation-of-powers limitations.”

Officials searched Mar-a-Lago three days after a judge approved a warrant as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act, and into obstruction of justice and unlawful concealment or removal of government records. Authorities said the documents seized included some that were so sensitive that they required FBI and DOJ officials to get additional clearances before reviewing them.

The former president filed suit in August and asked that Cannon appoint a special master to review the seized documents to ensure none fell under executive or attorney-client privilege.

Cannon granted Trump’s request in September, ordering a special master to review more than 13,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago and prompting the government to appeal. After the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted the special master from reviewing classified records seized during the search, the Supreme Court declined a request to vacate the order.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, framing the FBI search as a politically motivated witch hunt. In an earlier court filing, his attorneys described the search as “an unprecedented, unnecessary, and legally unsupported raid on the home of a President — and possibly a candidate against the current chief executive in 2024.”

The search of Mar-a-Lago came after the government spent months trying to recover presidential records believed to have been taken to Florida from the White House following the end of Trump’s presidency in January 2021, court records show. In January, Trump turned over 15 boxes of miscellaneous papers to officials. Authorities said that the papers included more than 180 confidential records, 25 of which were marked as top secret.

Trump turned over 38 more classified records in June, following a grand jury subpoena. Authorities sought a search warrant after learning that the former president had failed to turn over all classified documents in his possession, according to court records.

Since Trump left office, officials have recovered more than 300 classified records from Mar-a-Lago, government filings show. Two additional classified items were recently found in a Florida storage unit by a team that had been hired by Trump’s attorneys, according to The Washington Post.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that a special counsel had been assigned to oversee two investigations related to Trump, including his handling of classified records found at Mar-a-Lago.

Jack Smith, who previously served as chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section and as chief prosecutor for the special court in The Hague, is also overseeing the investigation into whether any person or entity interfered with the transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election.