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In major setback for Trump, appeals court ends special master's review of seized Mar-a-Lago records

The panel said Judge Aileen Cannon was incorrect to appoint an arbiter and prevent the government from using a trove of classified documents retrieved from Trump’s resort in its criminal probe.
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A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a judge’s order appointing a special master to review documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort should be dismissed.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit lifts earlier restrictions on the Justice Department’s examination of classified documents and other records and allow investigators to proceed with the probe more quickly.

The panel said U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s order in September to appoint an arbiter and prevent the government from using a trove of documents it retrieved with a search warrant from Trump’s resort in Florida on Aug. 8 was incorrect.

"The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant," the panel wrote. "Accordingly, we agree with the government that the district court improperly exercised equitable jurisdiction, and that dismissal of the entire proceeding is required."

Two of the three judges on the panel — Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher — were appointed by Trump. The third, Chief Judge Brill Pryor, was appointed by President George W. Bush.

In a separate order, the panel said its ruling will take effect in seven days, barring any intervention by the Supreme Court. Trump could appeal Thursday's ruling and request that the order be put on hold.

NBC News has asked spokespeople for Trump and the Justice Department for comment.

The appeals court ruling rolls back Cannon's appointment of Raymond J. Dearie, a senior U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of New York, to review all of the materials retrieved from Mar-a-Lago after Trump’s team argued that it couldn’t rely on a so-called filter team at the Justice Department to set aside any privileged documents. The filter team is separate from the investigators conducting the criminal probe.

Legal experts at the time blasted Cannon's ruling to grant Trump's request for an independent review, many of them questioning the implementation process and warning that the government's eventual appeal was likely to drag the investigation out further.

Cannon had set a deadline of Nov. 30 to complete the special master's review, but she later pushed it back to Dec. 16.

Outside court, Trump has put forth various arguments for why he believes the seized documents belong to him while simultaneously accusing the FBI of planting evidence. His attorneys have not backed up those remarks in court.