By Zachary Stieber

The U.S. judge in charge of disputes over records seized from former President Donald Trump’s home on Sept. 22 blocked the special master she appointed from viewing records with classified markings taken from Mar-a-Lago.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, removed the approximately 100 documents marked classified from her earlier order’s definition of “seized material.”

Cannon also struck two paragraphs from the earlier order:

  • One that stated the government would have to “Make available for inspection by Plaintiff’s counsel, with controlled access conditions (including necessary clearance requirements) and under the supervision of the Special Master, the documents marked as classified and the papers attached to such document.”
  • Another that stated “The Special Master and the parties shall prioritize, as a matter of timing, the documents marked as classified, and the Special Master shall submit interim reports and recommendations as appropriate. Upon receipt and resolution of any interim reports and recommendations, the Court will consider prompt adjustments to the Court’s orders as necessary.”

Cannon is a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The changes were outlined in an order handed down the morning after a panel of judges on the appeals court overseeing that court said Cannon “likely erred” in her order when she blocked the U.S. Department of Justice from using the records with classification markings for its investigation into Trump, and when she ordered the government to let U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master, and Trump lawyers access the materials, which Trump has said he declassified but the government says are still classified.

Cannon sided with Trump on Sept. 15 and inserted Dearie into the process, finding that it was important not to “accept the Government’s conclusions” on the records in question.

She also said it was not appropriate to accept at this time the government’s assertion that Trump has no plausible claim of privilege to any of the documents.

The appeals court panel, though, responding to a motion for a partial stay from the government, said that “we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification marking.”

“Plaintiff has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents. Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents. And even if he had, that, in and of itself, would not explain why Plaintiff has an individual interest in the classified documents,” they added. “Plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, Plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents.”

Even if Trump had declassified the materials, that would not explain a personal interest in them, the panel also said.

They ordered a halt to Cannon’s order with respect to the materials marked classified.

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