Trump lawyers reject Justice Department probe as ‘misguided’

Former US president’s legal team says court freeze on government review of records seized at Mar-a-Lago should persist.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump's lawyers say investigation of the former United States president stems from a 'document storage dispute' [File: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – Donald Trump’s lawyers have rejected the US Department of Justice’s push to resume its review of documents seized from the former president’s home during an FBI search last month.

In a court filing on Monday, Trump’s legal team asked a federal judge to uphold her own order that suspended the assessment.

The lawyers also questioned whether documents marked “classified” that were recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate were indeed secret files, suggesting that the former president may have declassified them before leaving office.

“The Government’s stance assumes that if a document has a classification marking, it remains classified irrespective of any actions taken during President Trump’s term in office,” they wrote.

Trump’s lawyers argued that an independent arbiter, known as a special master, is needed to protect materials that contain attorney-client privilege, executive privilege and personal information, including medical and tax records, from being examined by the Justice Department.

“The Government contends that President Trump can have no such interest in the purported ‘classified records.’ But, again, the Government has not proven these records remain classified. That issue is to be determined later,” they wrote.

Last week, the Justice Department appealed Judge Aileen Cannon’s order that temporarily blocked investigators from reviewing documents seized in the August 8 search of Trump’s Florida home. Prosecutors also asked the judge to partially suspend her own ruling and allow the review of classified documents to proceed pending appeal.

The parties submitted the names of special master candidates – consisting mostly of former federal judges and prosecutors – to the judge last Friday.

Justice Department lawyers said last week that stopping the review of classified documents “will cause the most immediate and serious harms” to the US government and the public.

“The classified records – a discrete set of just over 100 documents – have already been segregated from the other seized records and are being maintained separately,” the Justice Department wrote in a filing to Cannon, a Trump appointee.

Cannon had ruled that the US intelligence community can continue a separate national security risk assessment of the documents, but the investigative review should be put on pause until a special master vets the files.

The Justice Department is conducting an investigation into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified material in an unprecedented criminal probe targeting a former president.

On Monday, Trump’s legal team stressed that the investigation is “misguided”, saying that US law grants presidents “extraordinary discretion” to label documents from their administration as presidential or personal.

They said the issue should have been resolved between Trump and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) without the involvement of the Justice Department and the FBI.

NARA, a federal agency, had asked Trump to return the documents last year, according to US media reports.

Still, Trump’s lawyers described the investigation as a “document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control” and accused the government of seeking to make it a crime for the former president to hold on to “his own Presidential and personal records”.

The lawyers also rejected the argument that US national security may have been harmed by Trump’s possession of the records, saying there is no indication that potentially secret files were exposed to anyone.

“Indeed, it appears such ‘classified records,’ along with the other seized materials, were principally located in storage boxes in a locked room at Mar-a-Lago, a secure, controlled access compound utilized regularly to conduct the official business of the United States during the Trump Presidency, which to this day is monitored by the United States Secret Service,” they wrote.

Trump and his allies have dismissed the investigation, saying without evidence that it is politically motivated.

President Joe Biden has denied having prior knowledge of the search and insisted that the White House does not interfere in Justice Department-led investigations.

Source: Al Jazeera