WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Monday asked a federal judge to suspend the FBI’s review of documents recovered from his Florida estate earlier this month until a neutral special master can be appointed to inspect the records.
The request was part of a federal lawsuit, the first filing by Trump’s legal team in two weeks since the search, that widens the FBI’s investigation into the discovery of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and that foreshadows arguments his attorneys are expected to make as the probe progresses.
It comes as The New York Times reported that the government has recovered more than 300 documents marked as classified from Mar-a-Lago since Trump left office, including more than 150 retrieved in January by the National Archives — a number that helped set up the criminal justice system research.
The lawsuit ejects the August 8 search, in which the FBI said it recovered 11 sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago as a “shockingly aggressive move”. It also attacks the arrest warrant as being overly broad, arguing that Trump is entitled to a more detailed description of the data seized from the house and arguing that the FBI and the Justice Department have long treated him “unfairly.”
“Law enforcement is a shield that protects America. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes,” the lawyers wrote Monday. “That’s why we’re seeking legal help in the wake of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid” in Mar-a-Lago.
In a separate statement, Trump said “ALL documents have been previously released” — though he has provided no evidence to support that claim — and described the documents as “illegally seized from my home.” The Justice Department, in a succinct three-sentence statement, refuted that the search was authorized by a federal judge after the FBI put forward a possible cause that a crime had been committed.
The filing requests the appointment of a special captain unrelated to the case, who would be tasked with inspecting documents recovered at Mar-a-Lago and set aside those covered by administrative law — a principle that allows presidents not to disclose certain communications.
In some other high-profile cases — including investigations involving Rudy Giuliani . was involved and Michael Cohentwo of Trump’s personal lawyers — that role has been filled by a former judge.
“This issue has caught the attention of the American public. Only ‘adequate’ safeguards are not acceptable when it comes to not only President Trump’s constitutional rights, but also the presumption of executive privilege,” the lawyers wrote.
The lawsuit states that the records, made during Trump’s tenure in the White House, are “presumably privileged.” But the Supreme Court has never determined whether a former president can assert executive privilege over documents, writing in January that the issue is unprecedented and raises “serious and substantial concerns.”
The Supreme Court rejected Trump’s plea to prevent National Archives records from being turned over to the Jan. 6 commission, saying his request would have been denied even if he had been the incumbent president, so there was no need to thorny issue of a former president’s claims.
The lawsuit portrays Trump as “fully cooperative” and accommodating with investigators, saying members of his personal and household staff were made available for voluntary interviews and quoting him to officials during a June visit to Mar-a-Lago. from the FBI and the Department of Justice: “Whatever you need, let us know.”
But the chronology of events makes it clear that the search took place only after other options for recovering classified documents from the residence were incomplete or unsuccessful. For example, in May, weeks before the search, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena for records with classification marks.
The Trump team’s lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who was nominated by Trump in 2020 and confirmed by the Senate 56-21 later that year. She is a former assistant US attorney in Florida and mainly handles criminal law appeals.
The months-long investigation, which came to the public eye with the Mar-a-Lago search, stemmed from a referral from the National Archives, which earlier this year retrieved 15 boxes of documents and other items from the estate that should have been turned over to the desk when Trump left the White House. An initial review of that material concluded that Trump brought with him presidential records and several other documents marked as classified as Mar-a-Lago.
FBI and Justice Department officials visited Mar-a-Lago in June and asked to inspect a storage facility. Several weeks later, the Department of Justice requested video footage from surveillance cameras on the estate. After the Mar-a-Lago meeting, investigators interviewed another witness who told them there were likely more classified documents on the estate, according to a person familiar with the investigation and not authorized to speak about them publicly. .
Separately Monday, a federal judge acknowledged that redactions of an FBI affidavit detailing the basis for the search could be so extensive that the document would become “meaningless” if made public. But he said he continued to believe it should not be left sealed in its entirety because of the “intense” public interest in the investigation.
A written order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart largely repeats what he said in court last week when he headed the Justice Department to suggest editors about the information in the affidavit that wishes to remain secret. That entry must be submitted by 12 noon on Thursday.
Justice Department officials have tried to keep the entire document sealed, saying revealing some of it could jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation, reveal information about witnesses and reveal investigative techniques. They advised the judge that the necessary redactions of the affidavit would be so numerous that they would strip the document of all substantive information and render it essentially meaningless to the public.
Reinhart acknowledged that possibility in his Monday injunction, writing, “I can’t say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive as to result in a pointless disclosure, but I may eventually come to that conclusion after hearing further from the government.” .”
Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Jill Colvin in New York and Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.
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