Updated Aug 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ: Classified papers at Mar-a-Lago "likely concealed and removed"

An image provided by the Department of Justice showing partially redacted documents with classified markings.
An image of documents the Department of Justice says the FBI seized from former President Trump's Florida home, which the DOJ submitted to the court. Photo: Justice Department

The Justice Department asked a federal judge late Tuesday to refuse former President Trump's request for a "special master" to review the evidence the FBI seized from his Mar-a-Lago home, citing national security concerns.

Of note: The Department of Justice said in its filing that it has "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 also has "evidence indicating that boxes formerly in the Storage Room were not returned prior to counsel’s review," according to the filing.
"That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the 'diligent search' that the former President's counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter."
— Excerpt from DOJ filing

Driving the news: The Justice Department was responding to Trump's lawsuit filed last week, which seeks the appointment of a special master to review the materials seized from his Florida home and block the FBI from examining those documents until the special master is appointed.

  • U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, indicated on Saturday that she would grant the former president's request, though she stressed this was not "a final determination" on the matter.

What else they're saying: "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 Justice Department said in its filing in the U.S. District Court in southern Florida.

  • The "appointment of a special master is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests," the DOJ argued.
  • It "would impede the government's ongoing criminal investigation" and also an ongoing review by the intelligence community into "the national security risk that improper storage of these highly sensitive materials may have caused and from identifying measures to rectify or mitigate any damage that improper storage caused," the Justice Department added.

The other side: Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment, but the former president and his allies have called the FBI search and seizure of documents at Mar-a-Largo this month illegal and politically motivated.

  • Trump has called on the FBI to return the seized documents, which he says are protected by attorney-client and executive privileges.

What we're watching: The DOJ states in its filing that Trump "cites no case — and the government is aware of none — in which executive privilege has been successfully invoked to prohibit the sharing of documents within the Executive Branch."

  • Trump has until Wednesday evening to respond to the DOJ filing and the judge has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Thursday.

Read the DOJ's response in full, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: Here's what we know and don't know about the Mar-a-Lago inquiry

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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