Special master in Trump case would harm national security interests

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Tuesday night said that appointing a special master “is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests.”

The DOJ attempted to bolster its case to the court by including an FBI photo showing documents and “classified cover sheets recovered from a container” in Trump’s “45 office,” a reference to Trump being the 45th president. The photo shows documents marked “secret” and “top secret” and “SCI” —which stands for highly classified “sensitive compartmented information.”

In its late-night court filing, the Justice Department said that some of the documents seized were so sensitive and classified that FBI agents and DOJ attorneys needed additional security clearances to review them.

Documents seized at Mar-a-Lago recently.U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, West Palm Beach Division

The filing came in response to former President Donald Trump‘s request Aug. 22 — two weeks after the Mar-a-Lago search — for a special master to review the documents seized from his Florida estate.

Justice officials said that the appointment of a special master would impede the government’s ongoing criminal investigation.

Such a review of classified documents “would impede the Intelligence Community from conducting its ongoing review of the national security risk that improper storage of these highly sensitive materials may have caused and from identifying measures to rectify or mitigate any damage that improper storage caused,” the DOJ document states.

The Justice Department said it could not trust information that came from Trump’s orbit ahead of the Florida search and that a representative for the former president falsely asserted that classified documents had been turned over to the government. The fact that so many documents were found “casts serious doubt” on the Trump team’s claim that there had been “a diligent search” for documents responsive to the grand jury subpoena in May.

“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter,” the Justice Department said in the filing.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, signaled over the weekend that she was inclined to grant the former president’s request and appoint a third party to review the documents to ensure they don’t contain information protected by attorney-client privilege. The Justice Department has said that a government filter team that’s separate from the investigation had already identified “a limited set of materials” potentially containing privileged information.

In Tuesday night’s filing, the Justice Department argued a special master is unnecessary because government review teams have already finished their work. “It would do little or nothing to protect any legitimate interests that Plaintiff may have while impeding the government’s ongoing criminal investigation,” the DOJ filing says.

Ahead of Tuesday night’s filing, the Justice Department had asked permission to file a response of up to 40 pages to Trump’s special master request “in order to adequately address the legal and factual issues raised” by Trump’s legal team.

The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8 came after extensive discussions with the National Archives and Justice Department officials over nearly 18 months.

A redacted affidavit that laid out probable cause for the search revealed that the National Archives referred the matter to the FBI after it found “a lot of classified records” in 15 boxes that Trump turned over to the National Archives earlier this year. A subsequent FBI review of the boxes in May showed that 14 of the 15 boxes contained documents with classification markings. A total of 184 unique documents bearing classification markings were found, including 25 marked “TOP SECRET.”

The FBI was authorized to seize any documents with classified markings, along with the containers the classified documents were found in, along with any government or presidential records created during Trump’s time in office and any “evidence of knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of any government and/or Presidential Records, or any documents with classification markings.”

Among the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago were Roger Stone’s clemency paperwork, information about the president of France, and a trove of confidential and classified documents, along with presidential records. FBI agents seized 26 boxes, as well as a leather-bound box of documents containing Top Secret / Sensitive Compartmented Information, according to the property receipt of items recovered.

In a separate filing Tuesday, several former federal prosecutors who served during Republican administrations — Donald B. Ayer, Gregory A. Brower, John J. Farmer Jr., Stuart M. Gerson, Peter D. Keisler, William F. Weld, and former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman — wrote that “regardless of one’s political views, it is clear that there is no legal support for the relief requested by the former President.”

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