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Trump sues to stall Justice Department investigation, asks for watchdog

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Aug 23, 2022 - 07:27 AM

WASHINGTON (AA) – Former US President Donald Trump sued on Monday to have a federal judge appoint an independent watchdog to review documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate and prevent the FBI from continuing to do so.

Trump’s request to appoint what is known as a “special master” comes as the Justice Department faces a Thursday deadline to file a redacted version of the warrant affidavit it used to carry out the search of Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida residence on Aug. 8.

FBI agents were searching for classified documents brought there in possible violation of federal law and used the sworn affidavit to establish probable cause to carry out the raid. In all, 11 boxes of classified government documents were retrieved, including some marked with the highest levels of classification, according to court documents.

Monday’s filing by the former president’s legal team marks its first such action since the raid was carried out two weeks ago. In it, Trump’s attorneys said the unprecedented search of a former president’s property was “shockingly aggressive” and cast it as being carried out “with no understanding of the distress that it would cause most Americans.”

“According to the Government, the agents seized documents, privileged and/or potentially privileged materials, and other items — including photos, handwritten notes, and even President Trump’s passports — that were outside the lawful reach of an already overbroad warrant,” they said.

“Law enforcement is a shield that protects America. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes. Therefore, we seek judicial assistance in the aftermath of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid,” they added.

Special masters are used to review information that a party believes should be considered privileged, and Trump’s attorneys are seeking the appointment of one who would determine which documents are covered by executive privilege. That is a principle that allows presidents to prevent certain information from their time in office from being made public.

A special master, Trump’s team wrote, “is needed to preserve the sanctity of executive communications and other privileged materials.”

In addition, they are asking a federal judge to pause the FBI’s review until the special master is appointed, for the Justice Department to provide a more detailed accounting of what was taken, and require investigators “to return any item seized that was not within the scope” of the warrant.

The search warrant that was unsealed on Aug. 12 indicates the FBI is investigating Trump for violations of three federal laws, including the gathering, losing or transmitting of defense information; the concealment, removal, or mutilation generally of official records; and destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in federal investigations.

Trump and his Republican allies have been loudly calling for the underlying affidavit to be made public even as the judge in the case, Bruce Reinhart, said Monday that the evidence he reviewed was “reliable.”

The warrant authorized agents to seize any related property, including documents, communications and “any government and/or Presidential Records created between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021.”

The property receipt said that in addition to the classified materials that were taken away, FBI agents retrieved documents that included Trump’s order granting clemency to political ally Roger Stone, a “leather-bound box of documents,” two binders of photos, a potential presidential record and information regarding the French president.

The US National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of White House documents in January from Mar-a-Lago which should have been turned over to the agency when Trump left the White House in January 2021.

The Archives later notified Congress that the boxes contained “items marked as classified national security information.”

In June, federal investigators served Trump with a grand jury subpoena and seized “sensitive national security documents” from Mar-a-Lago, CNN reported.

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