Breaking News
Investing Pro 0
Cyber Monday Extended SALE: Up to 60% OFF InvestingPro+ CLAIM OFFER

Trump's path to stall documents probe narrows after legal setbacks

World Sep 23, 2022 06:30AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
© Reuters. Former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S., September 17, 2022. REUTERS/Gaelen Morse

By Luc Cohen and Sarah N. Lynch

(Reuters) -Donald Trump's bid to impede a criminal investigation into his possession of documents taken from the White House has begun to unravel, legal experts said, after courtroom setbacks including doubts expressed by judges about the former U.S. president's claim that he declassified records seized at his Florida home.

Trump has experienced disappointments on multiple fronts this week as his lawyers try to slow down the Justice Department investigation that kicked into high gear with an Aug. 8 court-approved search of his Mar-a-Lago residence in which FBI agents found 11,000 documents including about 100 marked as classified.

A three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that federal investigators could immediately resume examining the classified records, reversing Florida-based U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon's decision to wall off these documents while an independent arbiter assesses whether any should be withheld as privileged.

"Cannon's ruling is so far out of the norm, and the 11th Circuit did such a good job of thoroughly dismantling her opinion," said Jonathan Shaub, a former attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel who now teaches law at the University of Kentucky.

Trump may appeal the 11th Circuit's ruling to the Supreme Court, but experts doubted the justices would agree to hear it. The 11th Circuit's panel included two judges appointed by Trump.

At issue in the investigation - one of several legal woes entangling Trump as he considers another run for the presidency in 2024 - is whether he broke federal laws preventing the destruction or concealment of government records and the unauthorized possession of national defense information. The Justice Department is also looking into whether Trump unlawfully tried to obstruct the investigation.

Trump has not been charged with any crime and the mere existence of an investigation does not mean he will be.

As part of Trump's counterattack against the investigation, he has made public claims that he personally declassified the seized records.

"If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking it," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday. "You're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or wherever you're sending it, and there doesn't have to be a process."

Trump's lawyers, however, have stopped short of stating in court that he declassified the documents, though they have not conceded that they are classified.

The 11th Circuit called Trump's declassification argument a "red herring." The three statutes underpinning the FBI's search warrant at Mar-a-Lago make it a crime to mishandle government records, regardless of their classification status. The 11th Circuit also said it could not discern why Trump would have "an individual interest in or need" for any of the documents marked as classified.

Trump's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


To make matters worse for Trump, Judge Raymond Dearie - the arbiter, or special master, named by Cannon to vet the seized documents - asked Trump's lawyers on Tuesday why he should not consider records marked classified as genuinely classified. Dearie pressed Trump's lawyers to make clear whether they plan to assert that the records had been declassified as Trump claims.

Trump's lawyers proposed Dearie to serve as special master.

"Unless Trump can come up with real evidence saying he went through some kind of declassification procedure and declassified this stuff, there's no way he can prevail on this, and if he had that evidence his lawyers would have presented it," said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University.

Even as he has stated that he declassified the records, Trump also has publicly suggested that the FBI planted them at Mar-a-Lago. Dearie on Thursday asked Trump's lawyers to provide any evidence backing this up.

David Laufman, the Justice Department's former head of counterintelligence, said Trump's comments on Fox News were highly incriminating.

"Prosecutors must lick their chops every time Trump makes a public statement that is equivalent to making evidentiary admissions, like talking about sending documents marked classified down to Mar-a-Lago because, according to his account, he thought about declassifying them," Laufman said.

"It was a great day for the rule of law," Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and current law professor at the University of Michigan, said of the 11th Circuit's ruling. "It says that the law matters more than anyone's loyalty to a particular person."

Trump's path to stall documents probe narrows after legal setbacks

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Post also to:
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Continue with Google
Sign up with Email