Trump Files Motion Seeking to Prevent DOJ Access to Mar-a-Lago Records Until ‘Special Master’ Appointed

Trump Files Motion Seeking to Prevent DOJ Access to Mar-a-Lago Records Until ‘Special Master’ Appointed
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Casper, Wyo., on May 28, 2022. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)
Eva Fu

Former President Donald Trump on Aug. 22 filed a motion asking a federal judge to bar the Justice Department from reviewing documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago residence until a third-party watchdog can be appointed.

In the first court motion from Trump’s legal team since the Aug. 8 FBI raid on his residence, the attorneys sought the appointment of a “special master,” a more detailed list of inventory taken, and the return of any item seized that was not within the scope of the search warrant, according to a filing on Aug. 22.
Special masters, often retired lawyers or judges, are appointed in certain cases where there is concern that materials seized by authorities include information that is protected by the attorney-client privilege or other forms of privilege. A special master was appointed in 2018 to review former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and other felony charges later that year.

The FBI agents had taken “privileged and/or potentially privileged materials” such as photos, handwritten notes, and multiple Trump passports, the filing said, which they said were “outside the lawful reach of an already overboard warrant.”

“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in the filing.

The attorneys argued that the documents are “‘presumptively privileged’ until proven otherwise,” making it “unreasonable to allow the prosecutorial team to review them without meaningful safeguards.”

“Short of returning the seized items to Movant, only a neutral review by a Special Master can protect the ‘great public interest’ in preserving ‘the confidentiality of conversations that take place in the President’s performance of his official duties,’” the filing stated.

Trump released a written statement on his social media platform Truth Social after the complaint was filed.

“This Mar-a-Lago Break-In, Search, and Seizure was illegal and unconstitutional,” he wrote.

“And we are taking all actions necessary to get the documents back, which we would have given to them without the necessity of the despicable raid of my home, so that I can give them to the National Archives until they are required for the future Donald J. Trump Presidential Library and Museum.”

According to Trump’s lawyers, three pages of property receipt that the FBI agents left had provided little detail on what was taken from Mar-a-Lago. The inventory, unsealed on Aug. 12, includes an itemized list of the materials taken, including more than two dozen boxes and 11 sets of documents that have various classified markings. Most items have general descriptions, such as “Box labeled A-1” and “Miscellaneous Secret Document.”

It is “a matter of fundamental fairness for the agents to at least identify from what locations” each of the boxes were seized, how the confidential labels were assessed, among other information for the former president to avail the protective rights entitled to him, the filing argued.

An aerial view of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. (Steve Helber/AP Photo)
An aerial view of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. (Steve Helber/AP Photo)

In a statement to news outlets on Trump’s action, a spokesperson for the Justice Department said that the “Aug. 8 search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause.”

“The Department is aware of this evening’s motion. The United States will file its response in court,” the spokesperson added.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart separately ruled on Aug. 22 that the U.S. government officials have not presented sufficient proof to keep the affidavit filed in support of the search warrant—which contains the DOJ’s reasons justifying the search—from the public. The Justice Department has asserted that the document requires extensive redactions to protect intelligence sources and the integrity of the ongoing probe.

Reinhart has directed the Justice Department to propose redactions about what information it wishes to keep a secret from the document. The submission is due at noon on Aug. 25.

“I cannot say at this point that partial redactions will be so extensive that they will result in a meaningless disclosure, but I may ultimately reach that conclusion after hearing further from the Government,” Reinhart said in the Monday ruling.