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

Mar-a-Lago search: Justice Department says documents likely 'hidden and removed' from storage room
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US government documents were “probably hidden and removed” from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago as part of an attempt to “hinder” the FBI’s investigation into former President Donald Trump’s potential mishandling of classified material, the Justice Department said. Blockbuster trial on Tuesday night.

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

Tuesday’s filing represents the Justice Department’s strongest allegation yet that Trump hid classified material at Mar-a-Lago in an effort to thwart the FBI’s investigation into potential mishandling of classified materials.

The Justice Department has released startling new details as part of its move to challenge Trump’s “coercive search” request for interference in the federal investigation that led to the search of the Florida resort.special master” to be assigned to work.

The Justice Department said Trump had told an “incomplete and inaccurate story” in recent filings about the Mar-a-Lago search.

“The Government provides below a detailed recital of the relevant facts, many of which are provided to correct incomplete and inaccurate narratives contained in Plaintiff’s pleadings,” prosecutors wrote.

It offers a scathing rebuttal of criticism of the FBI’s unprecedented search of the former president’s residence, revealing how Trump failed to return dozens of classified documents even after his lawyer confirmed he had released all the classified material he had.

On the last page of the document, an image of classified documents strewn across the floor of Trump’s office — emblazoned with classified markings such as “HCS,” or human classified sources — proved just how sensitive the material Trump had taken.

At issue is Trump’s compliance with a grand jury subpoena issued in May requiring Mar-a-Lago to hand over classified documents. Prosecutors said Tuesday that some documents were removed from the storage room before Trump’s lawyers could inspect the area as they sought to comply with the subpoena. The timeline is important because Trump’s lawyers later told investigators they searched the storage facility and accounted for all classified documents.

“The government also produced evidence that government records were hidden and removed from the holding room and efforts were made to obstruct the government’s investigation,” prosecutors said. “This includes evidence that the boxes previously in the Storage Room were not returned prior to the attorney’s review.”

In a filing opposing Trump’s request, the DOJ argues that the former president does not have access to the former president’s presidential records “because those records do not belong to him,” since presidential records are considered government property.

The Presidential Records Act makes clear that “

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

The Justice Department was ordered to file a petition by Judge Aileen Cannon, who said she was inclined to grant Trump’s request for third-party oversight of the FBI’s seizure of Mar-a-Lago documents.

The special master’s role is to screen any material seized during a search that is not available to investigators because of privilege. Subpoenas have been used in high-profile cases before, but usually when the FBI searched a lawyer’s office or home and needed to sift through materials related to attorney-client privilege. Trump’s request is based on the need to protect documents related to executive privilege from his conduct as president.

Signals from Trump appointee Cannon that he is leaning toward appointing a special master in the Mar-a-Lago search have raised eyebrows among legal observers. First, Trump issued the appointment request two weeks after the search of his Florida home, risking the potential that the Justice Department had already done much of the investigation. Second, Trump and the judge pointed to civil rules governing special master appointments when a search warrant arises in a criminal context.

Following the Aug. 8 search, a number of previously classified court documents the DOJ submitted to obtain the warrant were partially released following a request for transparency from several media organizations, including CNN.

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

In seeking a special master, Trump emphasized that the Presidential Records Act, the Watergate-era law that sets the process for withholding presidential records in court filings, has no criminal application. He did not mention the three criminal statutes cited by the DOJ in the warrant filings. Trump’s lawyers also emphasized his ability to declassify documents while he was president, even though the laws in question do not require the materials to be classified.

A senior Justice Department official claims that federal investigators were limited in what they could review when they visited the resort in June — contrary to the Trump team’s narrative of general cooperation.

According to the Justice Department, Trump’s lawyer asked the FBI to come to the resort to retrieve the documents after the Trump team received a grand jury subpoena to search for any material secretly recorded in May.

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

“In filing the documents, neither the attorney nor the trustee alleged that the former president had declassified the documents or made any claim of executive privilege,” he said. “Instead, counsel treated them as if counsel believed the documents were confidential: production included a single Redweld envelope double-wrapped in tape containing the document.”

In the DOJ’s account, Trump’s lawyer said that all documents remaining from the Trump White House are stored in a warehouse at Mar-a-Lago. “The Commissioner further stated that there were no other records stored in any private office space or elsewhere in the Building and all available boxes were searched,” he said.

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

“Critically, however, the former President’s counsel expressly prohibited government employees from opening or looking inside any of the boxes remaining in the storage room, and did not allow the government to confirm that no classified documents remained,” the DOJ said.

The Justice Department confirmed that grand jury subpoenas had been issued in the investigation, and prosecutors said the search was also conducted in secret at a federal courthouse in Washington.

Referring to the summons issued in May, “[a]ny and all documents or records in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump with classified [list of classification markings]”,” DOJ said in a statement that it was authorized by Chief Judge Beryl Howell in the D.C. Circuit Court to release these grand jury subpoenas. The reference indicates that in addition to Florida judge Bruce Reinhart and Cannon, a third judge is now involved in the DOJ’s investigation.

“In his filings with this court, the former president disclosed this subpoena and the subpoena for video footage from the building,” he said. “Subsequently, on August 29, 2022, Chief Judge Howell in the District of Columbia allowed the government to disclose these grand jury subpoenas and the material discussed therein to this Court.”

This story has been updated with additional details.

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