WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday that “government records were likely concealed and removed” from a storage room at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in an apparent effort to obstruct the investigation into classified documents found at the property, The Associated Press is reporting.
In the filing made public late Tuesday, the department said the FBI seized 33 boxes when a search warrant was executed Aug. 8 at Trump’s Florida home. After reviewing the items, investigators determined that 13 boxes included more than 100 “unique documents with classification markings,” the filing said.
The department added that three of the classified documents “were not located in boxes, but rather were located in the desks in the ‘45 Office,’” according to the filing.
“Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status,” the filing continued, pointing to a redacted photo of some “documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ‘45 Office.’” The image featured some documents marked “TOP SECRET//SCI,” as well as one labeled “SECRET//SCI,” according to the AP.
The department noted that the number of classified documents recovered during the search was “more than twice the amount” Trump’s attorneys provided in June following a grand jury subpoena, according to the filing. On June 3, the former president’s counsel indicated “that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location – a storage room,” the filing said. Trump’s legal team “further represented that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched,” the department said.
The evidence seized Aug. 8, however, included additional classified documents found in the storage room and in Trump’s office, the filing said.
“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,” the department said.
As of 2 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Trump’s team had not publicly responded to the claims.
Trump’s lawyers will have until Wednesday night to file a response to the government. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. In a preliminary order filed Saturday, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon said she is inclined to appoint a special master.
Attorneys for Trump last week asked a judge to appoint a special master to review the items taken from Mar-a-Lago during a search earlier this month in which government officials sought confidential documents and other items from the former president’s Florida estate.
“According to the Government, the agents seized documents, privileged and/or potentially privileged materials, and other items – including photos, handwritten notes, and even President Trump’s passports – that were outside the lawful reach of an already overbroad warrant,” attorneys said in a complaint. They characterized the government’s search as “unprecedented and unnecessary.”
Trump’s attorneys asked a judge to appoint a special master “To Protect (Trump’s) Constitutional Rights.” They accused the government of violating the former president’s right to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures, and questioned whether the search was politically motivated, noting that it happened “a mere 90 days before the 2022 midterm elections” to “the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary and in the 2024 General Election, should he decide to run.”
“(Trump) submits that the appointment of a Special Master is the only appropriate action and, for it to have any meaning at all, a protective order should issue ordering the United States to cease review of the seized materials immediately,” attorneys said in the complaint.
In Tuesday’s filing, the Justice Department argued that “the appointment of a special master would be unnecessary and would interfere with legitimate government interests.”
“The government’s privilege review team has already identified any materials potentially subject to attorney-client privilege, and the government’s investigative team has already reviewed all of the materials that were not segregated by the privilege review team,” the filing read. “Appointment of a special master to review potential privilege claims in either category is therefore unnecessary.”
On Monday, government officials said in a court filing that a team of law enforcement officials separate from those who searched most of Mar-a-Lago, dubbed the “Privilege Review Team,” had completed a review of seized documents and found “a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information.” Under a process outlined in a redacted affidavit unsealed last week, the documents are next set to be reviewed by an attorney to determine next steps.
In the affidavit, authorities said they had reason to believe that sensitive documents containing information concerning the national defense were being improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago. The search on Aug. 8 came months after the National Archives and Records Administration received 15 boxes of documents that had been kept at Trump’s estate – 14 of which contained confidential records, officials said.
In total, authorities said they found 184 documents bearing classification markings, 25 of which had been marked as top secret as they “could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” according to the affidavit.
In the former president’s request for a special master, Trump’s attorneys said that Trump got a grand jury subpoena seeking classified documents in May. One month later, he invited the FBI to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve more documents and officials inspected a storage room at their request. Officials subsequently asked the former president to secure the storage room, which he did by directing his staff to put a second lock on the door, according to court records.
In social media posts, Trump has reiterated that he believes his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. On Saturday, he called the search of Mar-a-Lago an “unprecedented, unnecessary, and unannounced FBI/DOJ Raid (Break-In!) of my home.”
“This assault was done for political purposes just prior to the Midterm Elections (and 2024, of course!),” he wrote. “It is a disgrace to our now Third World Nation!”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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