Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is seen in Palm Beach, Florida, February 8, 2021.
Marco Bello | Reuters
The Department of Justice late Tuesday revealed that the FBI seized more than 100 classified documents from former President Donald Trump‘s Florida home earlier this month as the department urged a judge to reject Trump’s request to have those and other records reviewed by a special master.
The Justice Department argued in a court filing that Trump lacks the legal standing to appoint a special master. Appointing that watchdog could harm national security, the agency warned.
The department also said it has evidence that government records likely were concealed and removed from a storage room at Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, “and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”
Trump had sued to block the Justice Department from further investigating any materials taken in the raid until a court-appointed special master is able to analyze them. That step is typically taken when there is a chance that some evidence should be withheld from prosecutors because of various legal privileges.
“As an initial matter, the former President lacks standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to Presidential records because those records do not belong to him,” the DOJ wrote to Judge Aileen Cannon in U.S. District Court in southern Florida.
Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, has set a hearing for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET in a West Palm Beach courthouse. Trump’s legal team has until Wednesday night to reply to the DOJ’s latest submission.
Documents seized by FBI from Mar-a-Lago
Source: Department of Justice
The DOJ is conducting a criminal investigation of the removal of White House documents and their shipment to Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago when he left office.
By law, presidential records must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when a president departs office.
The National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago in January. The next month, NARA sent a referral to the DOJ that the records contained “highly classified documents intermingled with other records,” according to the affidavit used to obtain the warrant for the Aug. 8 search of Trump’s home.
The DOJ said in Tuesday night’s filing that the FBI had “uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating … that classified documents remained” at Mar-a-Lago.
“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the DOJ wrote.
That evidence contradicted a sworn certification letter on June 3 from the custodian of Trump’s records, claiming that “any and all” documents responsive to a grand jury subpoena had been handed over, the DOJ wrote.
The August search “cast serious doubt on the claim in the certification … that there had been ‘a diligent search’ for records responsive to the grand jury subpoena,” according to the DOJ’s filing.
Of the evidence taken in that raid, “over one hundred unique documents with classification markings — that is, more than twice the amount produced on June 3, 2022, in response to the grand jury subpoena — were seized,” the DOJ wrote.
“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter,” the DOJ wrote.
The prosecutors also argued against the appointment of a special master, saying it is “unnecessary” and that doing so “would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests.”
That harm could include impeding the intelligence community’s “ongoing review of the national security risk” that may have been caused by “improper storage of these highly sensitive materials,” the DOJ argued.
The prosecutors concluded that Cannon should reject Trump’s requests “and decline to require the return of seized items, enjoin further review of seized materials, or appoint a special master.”
Tuesday’s filing came one day after the DOJ told Cannon that its review of the seized materials was complete.
The DOJ told the court on Monday that a law enforcement team had identified a “limited set” of materials that may be protected by attorney-client privilege. That privilege often refers to the legal doctrine that protects the confidentiality of communications between an attorney and their client.
The so-called privilege review team — which is separate from the investigation that led the FBI to search Trump’s residence earlier this month — is following a process to “address potential privilege disputes, if any,” the DOJ wrote.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence “is also leading an intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of these materials,” according to the filing.
Before the DOJ posted its late-night response, a group of former government officials asked the judge to let them file a brief as “amici curiae” — Latin for “friends of the court” — arguing against Trump’s requests.
The group included six former federal prosecutors who served in Republican administrations, as well as former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who governed as a Republican but backed President Joe Biden over Trump in 2020.