Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are asking a federal court to appoint a “special master” to “preserve the sanctity of executive communication and other privileged material” seized when the FBI conducted a search of his Mar-a-Lago property earlier this month.
The filing — read it here — appears to be a way for Trump to repeat grievances and argue that the August 8 search was unjustified, as he claims that he was cooperating with the National Archives and later the Justice Department as they sought records he took with him after his presidency ended.
It’s unclear how the court will handle Trump’s request. Executive privilege can be asserted only by a sitting president, not by a former president after the fact.
Trump also wants the court to prohibit the government’s further review of material until a special master is appointed, and for the government to provide a more detailed account of what was taken from the property. The filing also calls for the court to require that the government return any item seized that was not in the scope of the search warrant.
Portions of the warrant were unsealed after the search, showing that federal agents removed 11 sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, as well as other materials. Trump’s filing does not explain why he was still in possession of those documents, which also included one set marked as top-secret. The New York Times reported on Monday that the government had recovered more than 300 documents with classified markings.
The warrant, signed by Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, called for seizing “all physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 793, 2071 , or 1519.” Those pertain to statutes prohibiting concealment, removal or mutilation; gathering, transmitting or losing defense information; and destruction, alteration or falsification of records in federal investigations.
Trump claims that he declassified the material when it was sent to Mar-a-Lago, but no written record that he has done so has been provided by him or his team.
In his filing, though, his attorneys argued that Trump has long been treated “unfairly” by the FBI and DOJ.
The attorneys wrote that :in light of recent FBI behavior when President Trump is part of its aim, this court should feel obliged to demand candor and transparency, and not just ‘trust us’ assertions from the DOJ.”
In the aftermath of the search, Trump suggested, without evidence, that some of the material may have been planted by agents, and his supporters, including GOP lawmakers, have echoed attacks on the FBI and DOJ. The FBI has seen a rise in threats since earlier this month, and Attorney General Merrick Garland said, two days after the search, “I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked.”
In the filing, Trump’s attorneys wrote that on August 11, one of the former president’s counsel spoke to Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department. According to the filing, the counsel, who was unidentified, relayed a message from Trump to Garland: “President Trump wants the Attorney General to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid. If there is one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry.’ The heat is building up. The pressure is building up. Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know.”
The filing does acknowledged that the Justice Department subpoenaed Trump for the records and, later, for security camera footage of the storage room where the documents were being kept.
Reinhart is currently trying to determine whether to unseal parts of the affidavit filed by the Justice Department to justify the raid.