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DOJ Accuses Trump Team of ‘Likely’ Hiding Classified Docs at Mar-a-Lago

08-31-2022
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Prosecutors obtained a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate after uncovering evidence that classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” as part of an effort to “obstruct the government’s investigation” into the discovery of sensitive records, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Tuesday. 

The 36-page filing asked a federal judge to deny Trump’s Aug. 22 request to appoint a “special master” in charge of reviewing evidence the FBI seized from his estate. The document also provided the most detailed account of what led to the FBI’s unprecedented raid of Trump’s property on Aug.8.

The Justice Department issued a grand jury subpoena to Trump’s team on May 11 demanding that all classified documents be returned to the government. According to the filing, a representative of the former president gave FBI agents a folder of documents on June 3. Meanwhile, another representative swore in writing that Trump had turned over “any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena.”

A deeper probe revealed that to be untrue, the Justice Department said. 

“The FBI uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating that the response to the May 11 grand jury subpoena was incomplete and that classified documents remained at the Premises, notwithstanding the sworn certification made to the government on June 3,” the Justice Department wrote in the filing. 

“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the Justice Department said.

According to the filing, the FBI seized 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified documents – including information classified at the highest levels – from the Mar-a-Lago search on Aug. 8. 

That was more than “twice the amount” Trump’s attorneys swore under oath that they voluntarily returned, the filing said. The document also included a photo showing pages marked “TOP SECRET” spread out on the carpet.

Photo Credit: Department of Justice

"That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the 'diligent search' that the former President's counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter."

Trump’s attorneys have not responded to requests for comment on the filing, but the former president and his allies have claimed that the investigation is politically motivated. 

Trump has also demanded that the FBI return the documents, which he argues are protected by attorney-client privilege. 

A hearing is scheduled on Thursday in response to Trump’s request for a special master – a third-party arbiter who would review the evidence and determine if it is protected by attorney-client privilege. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, suggested on Saturday that she would grant the former president’s request, but stressed her decision is not final.

The Justice Department argued in Tuesday’s filing that Trump “lacks standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to Presidential records because those records do not belong to him.” 

The department also said the special master was unnecessary because it had already finished its review of the documents and identified “limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information.”

Trump is due to respond to the Justice Department’s filing by Wednesday evening. 

Could Trump Be Charged with a Crime?

Now, many are asking the big question: did the former president commit a crime, and if so, could he face charges? That's the major issue surrounding documents taken by the FBI, and it raises questions after Hillary Clinton wasn't charged in the scandal over top secret emails sent from her private email server.

Dr. Marc Clauson, professor of history and law at Cedarville University, says anything could happen in the Trump case. "It is possible there could be a possible indictment from the Justice Department," he said. "But we really don't know. There haven't been any signals for whether they would do that or not."

Clauson says the issue comes down to the legal statute: whether it would be under the Espionage Act, or the Records Act. Both would require evidence that Trump showed intent to commit a crime. 

"So even if you indict, and even if you prosecute – even if you do have a trial – it's less than likely he would be found guilty," Clauson explained.

Presidents always take private documents with them when they leave the White House, but they're expected to go through specific channels. Trump claims many documents seized belong to him and not the U.S. government. That's why he wants an unbiased third party or "special master" to go through them, hoping a decision will be made to remove private papers from the case. 

The search warrant affidavit, used to justify the action, states that 14 of the 15 boxes taken from Trump's home have classified markings ranging from confidential to top secret. 

Informants also claim documents are marked with short-hand notations indicating top secret human clandestine operations (HCS) unknown to the public or U.S. adversaries. Other documents could indicate requests to surveillance foreign spies (FISA) inside the U.S. 

The investigation is intended to determine whether those documents under lock and key in Trump's home are worthy of an indictment. 

"Then the other thing is the new information coming out about the discussions that took place before the raid took place and why it was necessary for the DOJ to act hastily before that," Clauson points out.

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