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 lacked the legal standing to make such a request, and that appointing a special master could harm national security. It also said law enforcement officials had 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.
"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.
Not only is appointing a special master "unnecessary," but doing so "would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests," the prosecutors wrote.
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.
Documents seized by FBI from Mar-a-Lago
Department of Justice
The response came one day after the DOJ revealed to a federal judge that its review of the seized materials was complete.
A law enforcement team identified a "limited set" of materials that may be protected by attorney-client privilege, the DOJ told the court on Monday. 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, or ODNI, "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.
The DOJ is conducting a criminal investigation of the removal of White House documents and their shipment 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 a president leaves 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 June 3 letter from the custodian of Trump's records, certifying 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.
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.
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