US Department of Justice says Trump team may have moved classified documents amid investigation

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WASHINGTON, Aug 30 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said it had evidence classified documents were deliberately withheld from the FBI when it attempted to retrieve them in June from the former president’s estate. Donald Trump in Florida, prompting his unprecedented search of his home.

In a 54-page filing, prosecutors presented their obstruction of justice evidence on Tuesday, alleging publicly for the first time that Trump’s aides both falsely certified in June that the former president had turned over all government records. which he had stored at his home after leaving the White House in January 2021.

He also revealed that Trump’s attorneys “explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes” inside a storage room when FBI agents walked in. first traveled to its Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago resort in June to retrieve the records.

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“The government has also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from storage and that efforts were likely made to impede the government’s investigation,” the department said in a filing. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

He posted a photograph of some of the documents found inside Trump’s home bearing classification marks, some of which refer to clandestine human sources.

The Justice Department filings precede a hearing Thursday before U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach. She is weighing Trump’s request to appoint a special master who would conduct a privileged review of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, many of which are labeled as classified.

A special master is an independent third party sometimes appointed by a court in sensitive cases to review documents potentially covered by solicitor-client privilege to ensure that investigators do not view them inappropriately.

A special master was named, for example, in the searches of the homes and offices of two of Trump’s former lawyers: Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen.

In Trump’s initial application to the court, his lawyers claimed the former president wanted to protect documents subject to a legal doctrine known as executive privilege, which can shield certain presidential communications.

Legal experts have challenged that argument, saying it was illogical for a former president to claim he wanted to assert executive privilege against the executive itself.

Trump’s legal team later narrowed its request, asking for a privilege review without explicitly referring to executive privilege.

The Justice Department said Tuesday it opposes the appointment of a special master.

Trump, prosecutors argued, lacks standing in the case because the records “do not belong to him.”

The August 8 search of Trump’s home was a significant escalation in one of several federal and state investigations Trump faces.

In a redacted affidavit supporting research made public by the department last week, an unidentified FBI agent said the agency reviewed and identified 184 documents “bearing classification marks” after Trump in January returned 15 boxes. of government records sought by the National Archives of the United States.

After the National Archives discovered the classified documents, some of which related to intelligence gathering and clandestine human sources, they referred the matter to the FBI.

The Justice Department said Tuesday it had made several attempts to retrieve all of the records.

But eventually he developed evidence to suggest that more material remained at Mar-a-lago and had been hidden from investigators.

The FBI then took away 33 more boxes and other items in its August 8 search, some of which were marked as “top secret” – the level of classification reserved for the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

Trump’s defenses for why he kept the records have changed, and he hasn’t explained why he hasn’t returned all of the records.

He has previously claimed to have declassified all documents, pointing to a president’s broad declassification powers.

However, Tuesday’s filing by the government denied this.

“During the production of the documents, neither the attorney nor the Custodian asserted that the former president had declassified the documents or claimed executive privilege,” prosecutors wrote.

They also noted that when Jay Bratt, the head of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division, traveled to Mar-a-lago with the three agents in June to retrieve additional records, the attorney for Trump delivered the records “in a manner that suggested the attorney believed the documents were classified” by producing them in a “Redweld envelope” that was double-wrapped in duct tape.

Inside the envelope, according to the department, were 38 unique documents with classification marks, 17 of which were “top secret”, 16 of which were “secret” and 5 marked as “confidential”.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Scott Malone and Kim Coghill

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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