Trump’s latest legal setback came last night, when a federal appeals court handed the classified documents seized by the FBI at his Mar-a-Lago estate back to government investigators. In siding with the government, a three-judge panel—including two Trump appointees—slapped down just about every argument that Trump and his legal team had advanced to suggest that the former president was within his rights to take classified documents from the White House when he left office last year. The decision also rebuked Aileen Cannon, the Trump-appointed federal judge whose rulings in favor of Trump have led many legal experts and former prosecutors to question her impartiality. The lower court had “abused its discretion,” the panel wrote.
The appellate ruling was not the only sign of trouble for Trump in the Department of Justice’s investigation. Earlier this week, Judge Raymond Dearie—the special master whom Judge Cannon appointed (and whom Trump’s lawyers recommended) to review the Mar-a-Lago documents—expressed irritation at the Trump team’s refusal to show proof that as president, Trump had actually declassified the documents in question before his term ended. “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie told them.
Trump’s legal problems in New York State are growing too. On Tuesday, E. Jean Carroll, a writer who says Trump raped her in the 1990s (he denies it), said she would take advantage of a new state law allowing victims of sexual assault a onetime opportunity to file new civil lawsuits after the statute of limitations on their cases has expired. And yesterday, hours before the appellate ruling came out, New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled a lawsuit against Trump, his family, and his business alleging that for years, Trump inflated his net worth for financial gain.
As for Trump's flunky judge, a piece at Salon looks at her backtracking and revisions to her ruling in the wake of the 11th Circuit's stinging rebuke and how it largely wipes out further Trump delaying tactics. Here are highlights:
District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday struck portions of her special master ruling barring the Justice Department from investigating former President Donald Trump just hours after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ripped apart her decision to halt the criminal probe.
The three-judge panel — which included two Trump appointees — said Cannon, a fellow Trump-appointee, "abused" her discretion by barring the DOJ from continuing to investigate the classified documents seized from Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence and allowed investigators to resume their probe.
"For our part, we cannot discern why Plaintiff would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings," the panel said. "Classified documents are marked to show they are classified, for instance, with their classification level."
Cannon on Thursday issued a revised order stating that the special master in the case would review all documents "except the approximately one-hundred documents bearing classification markings." She also struck two portions from her original order preventing the DOJ from probing the classified documents during the special master review and requiring them to disclose the materials to the special master.
Some legal experts, like NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman, say that Cannon's revised order essentially "erased Trump's chance to appeal to Supreme Court."
Steve Vladeck, a federal courts expert at the University of Texas School of Law, explained that Cannon's amendment doesn't "formally" kill Trump's ability to ask the court to vacate the stay — since the stay is still out there — but in practical terms, it makes it impossible.
"Cannon's amendment moots DOJ's appeal, and means Trump can't show any harm — let alone irreparable harm — that the Eleventh Circuit's stay is causing," he explained on Twitter. "So there's still *technically* a stay for #SCOTUS to vacate, but no possible legal justification for asking the Court to do so."
Former appellate lawyer Teri Kanefield agreed that "changing the order moots Trump's appeal to SCOTUS." "I suspect that [Cannon] doesn't like being overturned on appeal and wants to avoid more appellate thrashings," Kanefield said. Even if Trump does appeal, legal experts say he will likely lose.
Former US Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained that Trump can attempt to go to the US Supreme Court but "it's a loser every day of the week." He added that the former president got "obliterated" by the appellate court and that they confirmed what legal experts have been saying, "the whole declassification thing is a red herring."
Bad news for Trump is good news for the rule of law and the American public.