Former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is seen in Palm Beach, Florida, February 8, 2021.
Marco Bello | Reuters
The Justice Department revealed late Tuesday 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 deny Trump’s request that those and other records be reviewed by special master.
The Justice Department argued in court filings that Trump lacked the legal standing to appoint a special master. The appointment of this monitor could harm national security, the agency warned.
The department also said it had evidence that government records were likely hidden and removed from a storage room at Trump’s home at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, “and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the investigation of the government”.
Trump filed suit to block the Justice Department from further investigating any materials taken during the raid until a court-appointed special master can analyze them. This step is usually taken when there is a chance that some evidence will not be withheld from prosecutors due to various legal privileges.
“In the first instance, the former president has no standing to seek injunctive relief or oversight with respect to the presidential records because those records do not belong to him,” wrote Justice Department Judge Eileen Cannon in the U.S. District Court for South Florida.
Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET in a court in West Palm Beach. Trump’s legal team has until Wednesday night to respond to the latest DOJ filing.
Documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago
Source: Ministry of Justice
The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into removing documents from the White House and sending them to Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach when he left office.
By law, presidential records must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when the president leaves office.
The National Archives and Records Administration removed 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago in January. The following month, NARA sent a recommendation to the Justice Department that the records contained “highly classified documents mixed with other records,” according to the affidavit used to obtain the warrant for the Aug. 8 search of Trump’s home.
The Justice Department said in Tuesday night’s filing that the FBI has “discovered multiple sources of evidence indicating … that classified documents remain” at Mar-a-Lago.
“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage facility and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the DOJ wrote.
That evidence contradicts a June 3 sworn affidavit from Trump’s custodian of records, which claimed that “all” documents in response to a grand jury subpoena had been turned over, the DOJ wrote.
The August search “cast serious doubt on the certification’s assertion … that there was a ‘painstaking search’ of records in response to the grand jury subpoena,” according to the DOJ filing.
Of the evidence taken in that raid, “over one hundred unique documents with classification markings — that is, more than twice the amount submitted on June 3, 2022 in response to the grand jury subpoena — were seized,” the DOJ wrote.
“That the FBI recovered twice as many classified documents in a matter of hours as the ‘extensive search’ that the former president’s counsel and other officials had weeks to conduct calls into serious question the statements made in the June 3 affidavit and calls into question the degree of cooperation in this matter,” the DOJ wrote.
Prosecutors also opposed the appointment of a special master, saying it was “unnecessary” and that it would “significantly harm important state 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 the “improper storage of these highly sensitive materials,” the DOJ alleged.
Prosecutors concluded that Cannon should deny Trump’s requests “and decline to require the return of the seized items, order further review of the seized materials, or appoint a special master.”
Tuesday’s filing came one day after the DOJ disclosed to Cannon that a review of the seized materials had been completed.
The Justice Department told the court on Monday that a law enforcement team had identified a “limited set” of material that could be protected by attorney-client privilege. This privilege often refers to the legal doctrine that protects the confidentiality of communications between a lawyer and their client.
The so-called privilege review team — which is separate from the investigation that prompted the FBI to search Trump’s residence earlier this month — follows a process to “review potential privilege disputes, if any,” the DOJ wrote.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, “also led an intelligence community assessment of the potential national security risk that would arise from disclosure of these materials,” according to the filing.
Before the Justice Department released its response late in the evening, a group of former government officials asked the judge to allow them to file as “amici curiae” — Latin for “friends of the court” — arguing against Trump’s requests.
The group includes six former federal prosecutors who served in Republican administrations, as well as former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who ran as a Republican but backed President Joe Biden against Trump in 2020.