Trump attorneys object to DOJ's request to continue reviewing classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago

·Reporter
·4 min read

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump submitted a filing in Florida federal court Monday objecting to the Justice Department’s recent request to continue reviewing classified documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

In their latest filing, Trump’s lawyers seemed to dispute the sensitive nature of the roughly 100 classified documents that were seized when the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August, and argued that they should be reviewed by a court-appointed special master along with the more than 11,000 other records recovered during the search.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3. (Mary Altaffer/AP file photo)

Last week, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, of Florida’s Southern District, granted the former president’s request to appoint an independent arbiter, known as a special master, to review the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago to determine whether any of the materials might be protected under attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. Cannon, a Trump appointee, also temporarily blocked the Justice Department from using the records for investigative purposes.

Days later, the Justice Department notified the court that it will appeal Cannon’s ruling on the special master, and filed a motion asking for a partial stay of her order with regard to classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago pending its appeal, writing that “those aspects of the Order will cause the most immediate and serious harms to the government and the public.”

The Justice Department’s 21-page motion made the case that it should be allowed to continue its review of classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, which it describes as “a discrete set of just over 100 documents,” arguing that Trump “does not and could not assert that he owns or has any possessory interest in classified records; that he has any right to have those government records returned to him; or that he can advance any plausible claims of attorney-client privilege as to such records that would bar the government from reviewing or using them.”

“... Among other things,” the DOJ’s motion stated, “the classified records are the very subject of the government’s ongoing investigation.”

Pages from a Department of Justice court filing along with an FBI photo of documents that were seized from Mar-a-Lago.
Pages from a Department of Justice court filing on Aug. 30, including an FBI photo of documents that were seized from Mar-a-Lago. (Jon Elswick/AP file photo)

Trump’s attorneys responded with their own 21-page filing Monday, which seemed to cast doubt on the sensitivity of the classified documents, as well as the legitimacy of the Justice Department’s investigation into their possible mishandling.

“This investigation of the 45th President of the United States is both unprecedented and misguided,” they write, arguing that “at its core,” the criminal probe “is a document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control.”

Trump’s lawyers go on to dispute “the alleged urgent need to conduct a risk assessment of possible unauthorized disclosure of purported ‘classified records,’” insisting that all of the materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago, which functions as a private resort as well as the former president’s residence, had been securely stored and that “there is no indication any purported ‘classified records’ were disclosed to anyone.”

“What is clear regarding all of the seized materials is that they belong with either President Trump ... or with [the National Archives and Records Administration], but not with the Department of Justice,” they wrote, arguing that “a thoughtful, organized review” is needed to determine which documents belong where.

An aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. (Steve Helber/AP file photo)

According to media reports and other court records, however, the Justice Department’s involvement in the records dispute followed months of back and forth between the National Archives and representatives of the former president, in which Trump’s team repeatedly refused to hand over materials from his time in the White House, as required by the Presidential Records Act.

A heavily redacted, unsealed copy of the affidavit used to secure a warrant for the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago in August shows that federal prosecutors specifically cited concerns over the security of documents that had been relocated from the White House to Trump’s estate in Palm Beach, Fla.

In a separate filing objecting to the appointment of a special master, the Justice Department wrote that materials recovered during the search, including three classified documents found in the desks in Trump’s office, were “likely concealed and removed” from a storage room as part of an effort to “obstruct the government’s investigation” into the potential mishandling of classified materials.