By ERIC TUCKER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Monday asked a federal judge to halt the FBI’s review of documents recovered from his Florida estate earlier this month until a master special neutral can be appointed to inspect the records.
The request was included in a federal lawsuit, the first filing by Trump’s legal team within two weeks of the search, which largely targets the FBI’s investigation into the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and which foreshadows the arguments of his lawyers. are supposed to do as the probe progresses.
It comes as The New York Times reported that the government had recovered more than 300 classified marked documents from Mar-a-Lago since Trump left office, including more than 150 recovered by the National Archives in January – a number that helped trigger the criminal investigation. .
The lawsuit presents the August 8 search, in which the FBI said it recovered 11 sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, as an “incredibly aggressive move.” He also attacks the warrant as too broad, argues that Trump is entitled to a more detailed description of documents seized from the home, and argues that the FBI and Justice Department have long treated him “unfairly.”
“Law enforcement is a shield that protects America. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes,” the lawyers wrote on Monday. “Therefore, we seek legal assistance following an unprecedented and unnecessary raid” at Mar-a-Lago.
In a separate statement, Trump said “ALL documents have already been declassified” – although he did not produce evidence to support this claim – and described the records as having been “illegally seized from my home”. The Justice Department responded in a terse three-sentence statement pointing out that the search was authorized by a federal judge after the FBI presented probable cause that a crime had been committed.
The filing calls for the appointment of a special master unrelated to the case who would be responsible for inspecting the records recovered from Mar-a-Lago and setting aside those covered by executive privilege – a principle that allows presidents to withhold certain communications from public disclosure.
In some other high-profile cases — including investigations involving Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen, two of Trump’s personal attorneys — that role has been filled by a former judge.
“This case has captured the attention of the American public. Mere ‘adequate’ safeguards are not acceptable when the case at hand involves not only President Trump’s constitutional rights, but also the presumption of executive privilege,” wrote the lawyers.
The lawsuit argues that the records, created during Trump’s tenure in the White House, are “allegedly privileged.” But the Supreme Court has never determined whether a former president can assert executive privilege over documents, writing in January that the issue is unprecedented and raises “serious and substantial concerns.”
The high court rejected Trump’s request to block documents held by the National Archives from being handed over to the Jan. 6 committee, saying his request would have been denied even if he had been the incumbent president, so he was not not necessary to tackle the thorny question of the claims of a former president.
The lawsuit paints Trump as “fully cooperative” and compliant with investigators, saying members of his personal and household staff were made available for voluntary interviews and citing him as having told FBI and Justice Department officials during from a June visit to Mar-a-Lago, “Anything you need, let us know.
But the timeline of events makes it clear that the search only took place after other options to retrieve classified documents from the home were incomplete or unsuccessful. In May, for example, weeks before the search, the Justice Department issued a subpoena for files bearing classification marks.
Team Trump’s trial was assigned to U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who was nominated by Trump in 2020 and confirmed by the Senate 56-21 later that year. She is a former Assistant United States Attorney in Florida, primarily handling criminal appeals.
The months-long investigation, which burst into public view with the search of Mar-a-Lago, emerged from a referral to the National Archives, which earlier this year recovered 15 boxes of documents and other objects of the estate which should have been handed over. at the agency when Trump left the White House. An initial review of this material concluded that Trump brought presidential records and several other documents marked classified to Mar-a-Lago.
FBI and Justice Department officials visited Mar-a-Lago in June and asked to inspect a storage room. Several weeks later, the Justice Department subpoenaed video footage from surveillance cameras at the estate. After the meeting at Mar-a-Lago, investigators interviewed another witness who told them there were likely other classified documents still in the area, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not allowed to talk about it publicly.
Separately on Monday, a federal judge acknowledged that redactions to an FBI affidavit setting out the basis of the search could be so extensive that they would render the document “meaningless” if released to the public. But he said he continued to believe it should not remain sealed in its entirety due to “intense” public interest in the investigation.
A written order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart largely reiterates what he said in court last week, when he ordered the Justice Department to offer redactions to information in the affidavit he wishes to keep secret. This submission is due Thursday at noon.
Justice Department officials have sought to keep the entire document sealed, saying releasing any part of it could jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation, reveal witness information, and leak information. investigative techniques. They informed the judge that the redactions necessary for the affidavit would be so numerous that they would strip the document of any material information and effectively render it meaningless to the public.
Reinhart acknowledged that possibility in his Monday order, writing, “I cannot say at this point that the partial redactions will be so significant as to result in meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately come to that conclusion after hearing more government.
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Jill Colvin in New York and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.