A US judge has refused to allow the Justice Department to immediately resume its review of classified documents seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida estate in an ongoing criminal investigation, siding with the former president, Reuters reported.
Federal Judge Eileen Cannon also appointed Senior District Judge Raymond Deary as a third party to review documents seized by the FBI for material that could be privileged and therefore unavailable to federal investigators.
The Justice Department has promised to take the case to an appeals court if Cannon rules against their request. They also sought to block the independent arbitrator, Deary, from reviewing about 100 classified documents, among a total of 11,000 documents seized in the Aug. 8 search.
“The court does not see fit to accept the government’s conclusions on these important and contentious issues without further review by a neutral third party in an expedited and orderly manner,” Cannon ruled Thursday.
Cannon was appointed to her post by Trump in 2020.
A Justice Department spokesman and Trump’s lawyers did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Cannon’s decision further complicates the Justice Department’s investigation. The special review-in-chief could block prosecutors from accessing the documents while they evaluate the possibility of criminal charges.
On Thursday, Cannon said he would instruct Deary to prioritize reviewing classified records first. She also ordered him to complete the review of all seized materials by November 30.
The Justice Department is investigating Trump for keeping government documents — some designated classified, including “top secret” — at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after his presidency ends in January 2021.
The classified documents case is just one of several federal and state investigations facing Trump, who is considering another run for president in 2024.
On Sept. 8, the Justice Department asked the judge to partially lift his previous restriction barring investigators from reviewing all the documents seized last month from Mar-a-Lago, so they could at least continue to review those marked classified.
The department also asked the judge to exclude those classified records from the special master’s review, vowing to appeal to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if their request is denied.
Trump’s lawyers opposed both requests, telling the judge on Monday that they disputed the government’s contention that all the records were classified.
Trump’s lawyers disputed the department’s contention that the roughly 100 documents in question were in fact classified, and reminded Cannon that the president generally has broad powers to declassify records. They did not imply that Trump had leaked the documents, a claim he made on social media but not in court filings.