Updated Sep 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump accuses DOJ of "criminalizing" his possession of presidential records

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.
Former President Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, earlier this month. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former President Trump issued a defiant response Wednesday evening to the Department of Justice's filing indicating it has evidence classified documents were "likely concealed and removed."

Driving the news: Trump's legal team in a filing accused the government of twisting the framework of his request for a "special master" to review the evidence the FBI seized from his Mar-a-Lago home, after the DOJ cited "national security interests" to the court as it outlined its opposition to such an appointment.

  • The former president wants the U.S. District Court in southern Florida to appoint a special master, a third-party attorney like a retired judge, to examine the case — including the issue of executive privilege.
  • "Left unchecked, the DOJ will impugn, leak, and publicize selective aspects of their investigation with no recourse for [Trump] but to somehow trust the self-restraint of currently unchecked investigators," his attorneys wrote.

Worth noting: Trump's legal team did not address the DOJ's submission 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 big picture: Trump claims the seized documents are protected by attorney-client and executive privileges.

  • His lawyers said there "is no question and, indeed there is broad agreement, that the matters before this Court center around the possession, by a President, of his own Presidential records."

Yes, but: The Justice Department contends that the records belong to the government, not Trump — who earlier on Wednesday wrote on his Truth Social platform that he had "declassified" the documents before leaving office, which the DOJ disputed in its filing.

  • The DOJ said in its submission on Tuesday 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."

What else they're saying: Attorneys for Trump accused the Justice Department in their court filing of an "unjustified pursuit of criminalizing a former President's possession of personal and Presidential records in a secure setting."

  • They also criticized the DOJ for submitting to the court an image of classified papers strewn across a room at Mar-A-Lago, saying it "gratuitously included a photograph of allegedly classified materials, pulled from a container and spread across the floor for dramatic effect."

What to watch: The Florida judge in charge of the matter has scheduled a hearing for Thursday.

Go deeper: Trump taps former Florida solicitor general as lead lawyer in DOJ probe

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

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