Mar-a-Lago search: Justice Department says documents ‘may have been hidden and removed’ from storage room

More than 320 classified documents have now been recovered from Mar-a-Lago, the Justice Department said, including more than 100 in an FBI search earlier this month.

The suit, filed Tuesday, represents the Justice Department’s strongest case to date in an effort to block the FBI’s investigation into the possible mishandling of classified material by concealing a classified material Trump kept at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump presented an “incomplete and inaccurate story” in his recent court filings regarding the Mar-a-Lago search, the Justice Department said.

“The government provides below a detailed recitation of relevant facts, many of which are offered to correct incomplete and inaccurate narratives set forth in plaintiff’s filings,” the attorneys wrote.

It offers a strong rebuttal to criticism of the FBI’s unprecedented raids on the former president’s home, which clearly shows Trump’s failure to return dozens of classified documents after his lawyer provided them with all the classified material.

An image on the final page of the filing showing classified documents strewn across the floor of Trump’s office — emblazoned with classified markings such as “HCS,” or Human Confidential Sources — struck home just how sensitive the material Trump was handling.

At issue is Trump’s compliance with a grand jury subpoena issued in May demanding that Mar-a-Lago turn over classified documents. Prosecutors said Tuesday that some of the documents may have been removed from a storage room before Trump’s lawyers could examine the area as they try to comply with the subpoena. The deadline was necessary because Trump’s lawyers later told investigators that they had searched the storage area and that all classified documents had been taken into account.

“The government also produced evidence that government records may have been hidden and removed from a storage room and efforts may have been made to obstruct the government’s investigation,” prosecutors wrote. “This includes evidence indicating that the boxes in the storage room were not returned prior to the consultant’s review.”

In a filing opposing Trump’s request, the DOJ argues that the former president has no standing in the presidential records because presidential records are considered government property, “because the records do not belong to him.”

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The Presidential Registration Act clearly states that “[t]The DOJ filing states that he “has full ownership, possession and control of the United States.”

Trump has argued that his constitutional rights were violated and that some of the documents seized earlier this month contained material that was privileged — particularly executive privilege.

The Justice Department was ordered to produce documents from the FBI’s seizure of Mar-a-Lago by Judge Eileen Cannon, who had already indicated she was willing to accept Trump’s request for third-party oversight.

A special master’s role is to filter out any material seized in a search that does not fall into the hands of investigators because of a privilege. The special privilege has been used in high-profile cases before, but typically in cases where the FBI has searched a lawyer’s office or home to filter out material related to the attorney-client privilege. Trump’s request centers on the need to protect documents related to executive privilege from his conduct as president.

Trump-appointed Cannon’s signals that he is leaning toward appointing a special master in the Mar-a-Lago search have raised eyebrows among legal observers. For one thing, Trump filed his request for nomination two weeks after searching for his Florida home, and the Justice Department is likely to have already done much of its review. Second, Trump and the judge also pointed to civil rules regarding special principal appointments when search warrants arise in a criminal context.

After the August 8 search, several confidential court filings submitted by the DOJ to obtain the warrant were partially made public due to a transparency effort filed in court by several media organizations, including CNN.

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The redacted documents revealed that the search was connected to a DOJ investigation into violations of the Espionage Act, criminal mishandling of government documents and obstruction of justice. According to an FBI affidavit released last week, an FBI review of 15 boxes retrieved by the National Archives in January from Mar-a-Lago found 184 documents with classification markings — some of which were identified as particularly sensitive government documents.

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Trump, while seeking a special master, urged the court to file criminal enforcement deficiencies in the Presidential Records Act, the Watergate-era law that set out the process for protecting presidential records. He did not mention the three criminal statutes cited by the DOJ in its warrant documents. Trump’s lawyers have emphasized his unfettered ability to declassify documents during his presidency, though the laws in question do not require materials to be classified.

Trump’s lawyer has limited what the DOJ can see during the June visit

Contrary to the Trump team’s narrative of full cooperation, a top Justice Department official argues that federal investigators were limited in what they could see during a visit to the resort in June.

Trump’s lawyer requested the FBI come to the resort to pick up the documents after the Trump team received a grand jury subpoena in May seeking any classified material, according to the Justice Department.

The DOJ’s account undermined claims by Trump and his allies that the former president classified the materials in question.

“While preparing the documents, neither the attorney nor the defense asserted that the former president classified the documents or asserted any claim for executive privilege,” the filing said. “Instead, counsel handled the documents as counsel believed they were classified: the preparation included a single redweld envelope double-wrapped in tape containing the document.”

In the DOJ’s account, Trump’s attorney said all remaining documents from Trump’s White House are kept in storage at Mar-a-Lago. “Counsel further represented that no other records were stored in any private office space or elsewhere on the premises and that all available boxes were searched,” the filing said.

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Prosecutors confirmed Trump’s claim that visiting DOJ and FBI officials were allowed to visit the storage area.

“Critically, however, counsel for the former president prohibited government employees from opening or looking inside any boxes that remained in the storage room, giving the government no opportunity to ensure that no documents with classification markings remained,” the DOJ said.

DOJ Reveals Actions Related to Mar-a-Lago Search in DC

The Justice Department confirmed that grand jury subpoenas had been issued in its investigation, and in doing so, prosecutors indicated that proceedings related to the search were unfolding in secret in federal court in Washington, DC.

Referring to the subpoena issued in May, “[a]ny and Donald J. Trump and/or Donald J. All documents or writings in the custody or control of Trump’s office carry classified markings [list of classification markings],” the DOJ said in a footnote that DC District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell was authorized to issue those grand jury subpoenas. Her reference is to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt in Florida and Cannon, the third judge now involved in the DOJ’s investigation.

“In his filing with this court, the former president released this subpoena and subpoena for the video footage on campus,” the footnote reads. “Subsequently, on August 29, 2022, Chief Judge Howell, District of Columbia, authorized the government to disclose these grand jury subpoenas and the matters discussed herein to this court.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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