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Trump requests the Supreme Court to resolve the Mar-a-Lago document dispute

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to intervene in the review of documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Trump's attorneys filed their appeal late yesterday, asking the court to review one part of the lower court rulings over the papers recovered from Trump's home. Trump, you'll recall, appointed the district judge in the case, also appointed two of three judges that partly overruled her, and also appointed three justices on the high court that he would like to overrule them.

MARTINEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here. Ryan, it sounds like a very narrow appeal. So what exactly are Trump's attorneys asking for?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Yeah, it is a pretty limited ask. They want the Supreme Court to vacate the 11th Circuit's stay, limiting the scope of the special master's review. So in other words, they want the special master's review to include the roughly 100 classified documents that the FBI collected in August from Mar-a-Lago. They are not asking the Supreme Court to stop the Justice Department from using those classified documents in their investigation. But it was critical, Trump's attorney said, that these classified documents be reviewed by the special master for purposes of transparency and public confidence, they said.

MARTINEZ: This has been an ongoing legal saga, Ryan. How did we get here?

LUCAS: There has been a lot of back-and-forth since the FBI took these documents from Mar-a-Lago back in early August. You may recall that in early September, a judge in Florida - who, as Steve noted, was appointed by Trump - granted a request by Trump to appoint a special master to review all of these documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

The Justice Department appealed part of that ruling. It wanted two things in that appeal - it wanted the FBI to be allowed to use these 100 classified documents or so in their investigation, and the Justice Department didn't want to have to hand over the classified documents to the special master. A three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with the Justice Department. It temporarily blocked the lower court's order and cleared the way for the FBI to use the classified documents in its investigation again. And it also said the Justice Department did not have to provide those classified materials to the special master.

MARTINEZ: All right. So what does Trump's appeal now mean for the Justice Department's investigation?

LUCAS: It's not entirely clear. As I said earlier, Trump's attorneys aren't asking the Supreme Court to stop federal investigators from using these classified materials in their investigation. And remember, that investigation is looking into possible mishandling of national defense information or the concealing or destruction of government records. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is still appealing the appointment of the special master. Last week, the department said in court papers that the special master's review is delaying their investigation and had asked the 11th Circuit to fast-track that appeal. And that, of course, is something that Trump is opposing.

MARTINEZ: We've mentioned the makeup of the court, dominated by six conservative justices, three of them nominated by Trump. And Ginni Thomas, Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, is under scrutiny for her ties to Trump's efforts to overturn the election. What role do all these dynamics play in this case?

LUCAS: Well, look, Trump has, in the past, gone to the Supreme Court to try to shield his business and his presidential records from investigators. I mean, he hasn't always fared well. In January, remember, the court rejected his request to block the release of White House records that the House January 6 committee was seeking for its investigation. So we'll see what happens with this new effort. In this case, Trump's attorneys have submitted this emergency application to Justice Clarence Thomas, who oversees the 11th Circuit. He has given the Justice Department until Tuesday to respond. Thomas can act on his own, or the usual thing to do in something like this, a high-profile matter like this, would be to refer it to the full court.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Ryan Lucas - Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.