Prosecutors obtained a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate after receiving evidence that there was a “possible” attempt to hide classified documents there in violation of a grand jury subpoena, according to a new Justice Department court filing that published Tuesday night. .
The 36-page filing was the department’s most detailed account yet of the obstruction of justice evidence, raising concerns that Trump and his lawyers tried to mislead investigators about the sincerity and thoroughness of their effort to track down and return extraordinary sensitive records to the government.
“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely hidden and removed from the Vault and that efforts were likely made to obstruct the government’s investigation,” wrote Justice Department counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt.
“The fact that the FBI, within hours, discovered twice as many redacted documents than the ‘diligent investigation’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to conduct casts serious doubt on the statements made in the June 3 certification and questions the extent of cooperation in this matter,” he added.
The long-awaited filing includes a stunning photo of some of the apparently classified files recovered from the so-called “Office 45” at Mar-a-Lago, spread out on a carpet.
Several brightly colored cover sheets for classified information are visible marked “Top Secret”, “Secret” and “Sensitive Departmental Information”. At least three of the classified documents are on White House letterhead. A box of framed items, including a 2019 Time magazine cover depicting the then-Democratic presidential field vying to defeat Trump, sits nearby.
The Justice Department said the “commingling” of Trump’s personal items with classified material is “relevant evidence of the legal offenses under investigation.” Three classified documents were found in a “desk drawer,” prosecutors said, without elaborating. Trump’s claims that the items should be returned to him have no merit, they added.
“Any presidential records seized pursuant to the search warrant belong to the United States and not to the former President,” Bratt argued.
The filing with a federal judge in Florida opposes Trump’s request to have an independent third party review the records the FBI seized during its Aug. 8 raid on the former president’s Florida compound. The Justice Department urged U.S. District Court Judge Eileen Cannon to oppose Trump’s request for a so-called “special master,” arguing that his late request was merely an attempt to stall the investigation.
Specifically, Bratt urged Cannon to reject Trump’s contention that any of the seized documents are subject to an executive privilege claim by him — and therefore unretrievable by the current administration.
“The former President cites no case — and the administration is aware of none — in which executive privilege has been successfully invoked to prohibit the sharing of documents within the executive branch,” Bratt wrote.
Even if there were circumstances in which a former president could claim privilege, Bratt argues, that scenario would not come close. Intelligence officials are currently reviewing the recovered records to assess national security risks, and any disruption to that could jeopardize the review, the DOJ argues.
The Justice Department also noted that at a June 3 meeting at Mar-a-Lago, Trump aides treated the documents as if they remained classified, never claimed Trump had declassified them and released some in “a single Redweld file, double wrapped on tape.”
A Trump lawyer then argued in a certification letter to the government: “The boxes moved from the White House to Florida were diligently searched” and that “any and all responsive documents accompany this certification.” At the meeting, Trump’s lawyers insisted there were no subpoenaed documents elsewhere on the property, but “expressly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the warehouse.”
The filing is the Justice Department’s first response to Trump’s legal effort to defuse the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the storage of highly classified documents in an unsecured warehouse and elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump is scheduled to respond to the administration’s filing by Wednesday afternoon, and Cannon requested a hearing on the matter Thursday afternoon in West Palm Beach. Requests for comment made to Trump’s representatives after Tuesday’s deposition were not returned.
The Justice Department used the deposition to strongly refute some of Trump’s claims about his interactions with the Justice Department and reveal more details about investigators’ private interactions with Trump and his lawyers. Among other details, the filing reveals that prosecutors took the matter seriously enough to ask the Washington, D.C.-based federal judge overseeing the investigation to allow the release of some of the grand jury information they gathered during the probe. .
The threat of possible criminal charges against Trump has intensified over the past year, largely as a result of investigations related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The Justice Department has questioned witnesses connected to that effort, including high-ranking administration officials of Trump. And an Atlanta-area grand jury led by U.S. Attorney Fani Willis has been conducting a parallel investigation that has also ensnared top Trump allies.
But the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified and national defense material exploded into public view this month after the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, removing dozens of boxes they found to contain highly classified and otherwise sensitive information.
The Justice Department recently described the investigation as “in its early stages,” but informed Cannon that a “filter team” had completed its search for potentially privileged attorney-client information among the items seized, identifying a “limited set.”
In the new filing, prosecutors argue that Trump’s lawyers moved too slowly and that it would be pointless to appoint a special master at this point because investigators have already reviewed everything seized and not set aside by the filter team. Doing so would only hinder the ongoing criminal investigation and impede the intelligence community’s review of potential national security risks.
“The investigation team has already examined all the seized materials that were not separated by the filter team. Limiting further scrutiny by the government — including by the Intelligence Community — would therefore do little to protect Plaintiff’s purported interests or rights,” Bratt wrote.
“Typically, parties requesting the appointment of a special master after the execution of a search warrant immediately file such requests,” Bratt added.
While we’re arguing against a special master, the filing offers some suggestions for Cannon if she decides to do so anyway. Prosecutors say the special master should only review the seized records for potentially privileged attorney-client information and not other matters. Additionally, the Justice Department says that if a special master “must be allowed to review classified documents,” that person should already have a top-level security clearance to avoid a delay.
Prosecutors also asked for a tight timeline, arguing that if a special master is appointed, all work to settle those benefits would be completed by Sept. 30.
Trump hired a new lawyer this week, former Florida Solicitor General Chris Keyes, to represent him in the criminal case that led to the Mar-a-Lago investigation. Other attorneys who have represented him in the matter include DC-based attorneys Evan Corcoran and James Trusty, as well as Florida-based attorney Lindsey Halligan.