The Justice Department responded on Tuesday to former President Donald Trump’s request for a “special master” to review materials seized by the FBI at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump’s lawyers have stated that the review is necessary to address issues that they believe may be covered by executive privilege.
In their 36-page filing, top department officials detailed their efforts to obtain highly classified records they claim were improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago since Trump’s departure from the White House, as well as the resistance they encountered from Trump’s representatives in their efforts to have them handed over.
The government included a number of exhibits to back up its case, including one photo purporting to show an FBI photograph of documents recovered from a container in Trump’s personal office, with colored cover sheets showing classification markings such as TOP SECRET/SCI, and one showing a marking that appears to refer to information obtained through confidential human sources.
According to the filing, after issuing a grand jury subpoena to Trump’s lawyers on May 11 to obtain all remaining classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, “the government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room [at Mar-a-Lago] and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.”
“This included evidence indicating that boxes formerly in the Storage Room were not returned prior to counsel’s review,” officials added in the filing, referring to a lawyer for Trump who stated that all White House records “were stored in one location,” the storage room, and that “no other records were stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched.”
According to the DOJ’s filing, the subpoena return date was May 24, but Trump’s team requested an extension, which the government initially denied before offering an extension until June 7. According to the filing, Trump’s lawyer contacted the DOJ on June 2 “and requested that FBI agents meet him the following day to pick up responsive documents.”
This brings us to the June 3 visit by a small group of FBI agents and Jay Bratt, the head of the Department of Justice’s counterintelligence division, which ABC News extensively covered. The DOJ stated in the filing that the information obtained during this visit was “a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents,” implying that Trump’s counsel handled the documents in a classified manner.
“Neither counsel nor the custodian asserted that the former President had declassified the documents or asserted any claim of executive privilege when producing the documents,” the filing stated. “Rather, counsel handled them in a way that suggested counsel thought the documents were classified: the production included a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents.”
The DOJ also revealed in its filing that during this visit, Trump’s lawyers permitted a visit to the storage room but barred government personnel from looking through the boxes that remained in the storage room.
“Critically, however, the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, providing no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained,” according to the filing.
“The individual present as the custodian of records produced and provided a signed certification letter,” the DOJ stated.
The Justice Department announced on Monday that the team tasked with identifying potential attorney-client privileged materials seized in the Aug. 8 search had completed its review and is in the process of addressing potential privilege disputes.
Judge Aileen Cannon has indicated that she is leaning toward granting Trump’s legal team’s request to appoint a special master to intervene in the ongoing document review.
Trump’s attorneys have until Wednesday to respond to a federal judge.
Judge Cannon has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 p.m. in West Palm Beach to hear arguments from both sides on the request.