Federal authorities staged a “photo op” with the newly disclosed photograph showing documents with classified markings at former President Donald Trump’s Florida resort, former White House aide Kash Patel has asserted.
“Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status,” lawyers for the Justice Department (DOJ) said in a brief filed on Aug. 30 in which they urged against granting Trump’s motion for a special master—a neutral outsider who would review the seized Mar-a-Lago materials and sift out potentially privileged documents.
The lawyers said even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys reviewing the documents had to request additional clearances to review some of the documents.
But Patel, former chief of staff for the Department of Defense during the Trump administration who has worked at the National Security Council, said merely seeing the cover sheets amounts to little significance.
“The FBI and DOJ staged a photo op with cover sheets that say material is classified or not. And the cover sheet—just so we’re clear—government agencies use those all the time,” he said during a weekly appearance on EpochTV program “Kash’s Corner” on Aug. 31.
“The cover sheets themselves are not classified, even when the cover sheet says top secret. It’s a cover sheet. It’s supposed to be on top of documents that are classified, and what the President has publicly contended is that those documents at Mar-a-Lago were already declassified by him as the president.”
Trump has repeatedly said he declassified the materials he kept, which federal authorities are disputing.
Patel also suggested that the agents “violated the basic rules of executing a search warrant.” In his days as a federal prosecutor on national security cases, they handled the documents differently when searching a venue, he said.
“We took photographs of things as they were found,” he said. “Because once you move them, you interfere with the chain of custody, and you interfere with the efficacy of their evidentiary value.”
Patel said it’s similar to walking into a murder scene, and “finding the gun in the garbage can and one of the murder suspects on the ground,” then putting the gun in the man’s hand and “taking a photo with him pointing it at the person that’s dead.”
“You’re not supposed to do that. It’s literally investigatory 101,” he said.
In the same court filing, the DOJ argued that Trump lacked the legal standing to ask for a special master because the records belong not to him but to the United States under the Presidential Records Act.
The filing also states that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain Trump’s claims; and even if it did, appointing a special master was unnecessary, in part, because the government’s filter team has reviewed all the materials and separated anything potentially subject to attorney-client privilege.
“They’re basically telling the judge, we did the work already,” Patel said, noting that the government’s opposition to appointing a special master gives him pause. “What is the DOJ’s problem and the FBI’s problem with having a special master look at it? What do they have to lose? They’re worried about the special master coming in and saying: ‘You guys got it wrong.’”
A court hearing for Trump’s special master request took place on Sept. 1 in West Palm Beach, Florida. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon delayed her ruling on the matter.
The FBI referred inquiries by The Epoch Times to the DOJ, which didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.