- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Justice Department said classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in violation of a grand jury subpoena.

In the most detailed filing to date, Justice Department lawyers late Tuesday night pushed back on claims from the former president’s team that they conducted a “diligent search” and all documents requested under subpoena were returned.

The filing in a South Florida court was in response to Mr. Trump’s lawsuit asking a federal judge to appoint a “special master” to review documents seized in the Aug. 8 raid of Mar-a-Lago and return to him any documents that were protected under attorney-client privilege.

But the Justice Department said Mr. Trump was not cooperative and acted to obstruct the investigation into whether he mishandled classified government documents. The agency has opposed Mr. Trump’s request for a special master, who is a neutral third party to decide which documents are privileged.

“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.

Attorneys for Mr. Trump certified on June 3 that he had returned all of the documents covered under subpoena, which sought all classified materials remaining at Mar-a-Lago.

Justice Department lawyers wrote that FBI agents seized more than 33 boxes containing 187 classified materials during the Aug. 8 search, including classified documents stored in desks in Mr. Trump’s office.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had said all presidential records sent to Mar-a-Lago from the White House during the waning days of his administration were secured in a storage room.

The Justice Department also included in its filing a photo that shows some of the documents were marked top secret or “sensitive compartmented information,” the two highest classification designations by the federal government.

“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 attorneys wrote.

In a response on his social media platform Truth Social, Mr. Trump insisted that he had declassified all of the documents seized in the raid. He also suggested that the FBI staged the “haphazardly” scattered documents around his office to frame him.

“Terrible the way the FBI, during the raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the former president had until Wednesday night to respond to the Justice Department filing. A hearing on the dispute is scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Palm Beach, Florida.

Mr. Trump is under criminal investigation for violations of the Espionage Act and other federal crimes related to the mishandling or removal of classified government documents.

An FBI team who reviewed documents seized during the Mar-a-Lago search concluded that a “limited” number of documents may be protected under attorney-client privilege. This week the team started its classification review.

In its filing Tuesday, the Justice Department said a special master isn’t needed because it would delay its criminal investigation and there is no reason to believe the bulk of the documents are privileged.

“It would do little or nothing to protect any legitimate interests that plaintiff may have while impeding the government’s ongoing criminal investigation, as well as the Intelligence Community’s review of potential risks to national security that may have resulted from the improper storage of the seized materials,” the government said of Mr. Trump’s request for a special master.

The White House said President Biden has not been briefed on any part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of Mr. Trump, including photos of classified documents piled up on the floor at Mar-a-Lago.

“The president has not been briefed on the latest development,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. “He has not been briefed on anything that’s connected to this particular investigation, which is an independent investigation.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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