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Supreme Court turns away Trump objections in Mar-a-Lago classified documents case

Al Drago
Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court for now has tossed out former President Trump's objections to the way the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is handling the seizure of classified documents from Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

The court's action was announced even as the Jan. 6 committee was conducting its last public hearing focused on Trump's role in the violence at the Capitol after the election.

The Eleventh Circuit has twice blocked legal actions taken at Trumps behest by Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointed judge, who named a special master to examine the documents and blocked the Justice Department from continuing its investigation into the handling of the documents and related matters.

Already the appeals court has blocked much of what Judge Cannon has done. Trump "has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents," wrote the appeals court panel, which included two Trump appointees. Moreover, said the three-judge panel, "The United States has sufficiently explained how and why it's national security review is inextricably intertwined with its criminal investigation." Indeed, said the panel, it would be "difficult if not impossible" for the Justice Department to pursue its investigation if it is barred from reviewing the seized materials.

Addressing Trump's claim that he may have declassified the documents, the panel called that a "red herring," noting Trump had failed to present any evidence to support his claim. "The record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified," the appeals court judges wrote, adding that Trump in appearing before the special master, had "resisted providing any evidence that he that he had declassified any of these documents."

That was in late September. In early October, the appeals court ordered the whole process of examining documents by the special master, speeded up, prompting Trump to appeal all of this to the Supreme Court.

Trump watchers were divided over why Trump's lawyers went to the Supreme Court at all. Did Trump insist on going to the high court, where three of the nine Justices are his appointees? Or was this a classic Trump maneuver aimed at exhausting his adversaries by prolonging litigation. If the latter, his adversary this time is unlike any he has faced before. The Justice Department won't run out of money like others who have faced off against Trump. If the former, Thursday's order likely infuriated Trump, though it is unlikely to have disabused him of the notion that the justices he appointed would side with him out of loyalty.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.