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The Department of Justice doesn’t want you to believe what former President Donald Trump says about the classified documents found squirreled away at Mar-a-Lago.
So rather than let the former President play up an “incomplete and inaccurate narrative” about the classified documents, government lawyers have shown some of them to us.
A photo of a spread of classified documents laid out on the floor as evidence at Mar-a-Lago is one of the many tantalizing breadcrumbs included in a new court filing by the DOJ late Tuesday night. We still don’t know what’s in the documents.
The larger picture is coming together. These piecemeal details help form a picture of the case the DOJ could potentially bring against Trump and his associates.
Government prosecutors included the photo evidence, presumably taken during the August 8 search of Trump’s Florida residence, in a filing that aims to squash his effort to slow down their case.
Trump wants to get back some of the documents seized by the FBI and let an independent third party sift through them to make sure they don’t include information covered by attorney-client privilege. The strange legal term for the third party is “special master.”
The government says Trump’s request came too late. Specifically, 14 days after the search and after the DOJ had already completed its review of all the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
Still, the Trump-appointed judge overseeing the former President’s lawsuit against the government had earlier suggested she was leaning toward appointing a special master. This forceful and detailed finding could complicate that inclination.
In a response filed Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers argued the National Archives should have expected to find classified information in the presidential records at Mar-a-Lago and that they should have tried for longer to get the documents from Trump rather than referring a criminal probe to the Justice Department. Read more.
A hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Florida at 1 p.m. ET.
This filing was not redacted. The revelations in the Tuesday night filing come less than a week after the Department of Justice released a highly redacted affidavit that was used to justify the search warrant executed on Trump’s property.
But there’s more to learn here. In addition to the photo of classified documents, the DOJ’s filing alleges Trump’s team has misled the public, outlines how Trump’s lawyers have only recently argued he had the power to declassify documents found on his property and alleges the FBI found more classified documents in the search than were handed over voluntarily by Trump – even though Trump’s team told the FBI it had done a thorough search.
Importantly, the DOJ argues it tried for months to get Trump to turn over documents in a process laid out in the Presidential Records Act, even after it began a criminal investigation into the handling of the classified documents.
There’s still so much we don’t know. For starters, how did the government come to realize that documents had been held back and not turned over to the National Archives?
CNN has reported there is a witness and also that CCTV footage from Mar-a-Lago was obtained by the FBI.
The Department of Justice refers to “multiple sources of evidence” that confirmed this finding and says in its filing that it can’t disclose this information while the investigation is ongoing.
A months-long effort led to deception allegation. The filing details multiple interactions between DOJ lawyers and Trump’s team as the National Archives and then the FBI worked to recover the classified documents from Mar-a-Lago and also pursued their criminal investigation.
The DOJ and FBI became convinced they had been misled after Trump initially turned over 15 boxes of documents, some of which we know from previous legal filings contained multiple Top Secret documents.
Concealed, removed and in Trump’s office desks. The DOJ alleges that material related to the case may have been “concealed and removed” from the storage room where it had been kept after a grand jury issued a subpoena for additional documents in May.
FBI agents were asked to meet Trump’s attorney at Mar-a-Lago on June 3, when they were given an envelope containing more classified documents.
Agents needed new permission to view documents. Indeed, during the August 8 Mar-a-Lago search, three classified documents were found “in the desks in the ’45 Office,’” according to the filing.
After the search of Mar-a-Lago, FBI agents realized they didn’t have the security clearance to be looking at the stuff, and they had to get special permission to view them.
Key line from the filing. “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.”
Lawyers in trouble? Experts interviewed on CNN said the allegations in the filing could implicate not only Trump, but also his lawyers.
“This filing, which is quite comprehensive, really highlights the fact that they are being looked at potentially for obstructing the investigation, and they’re in an impossible position,” said the former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Shanlon Wu, appearing on “Inside Politics” on Wednesday.
Sleuthing the photograph. The brightly colored images in the photograph denote different types of classification, although it’s not clear what’s underneath. The markings indicate some of the documents were concerned with human sources. Others had to do with electronic surveillance and spy satellites.
“These are the most prized possessions of the intelligence community, of the CIA in particular,” said CNN’s senior justice correspondent Evan Perez, appearing on “Inside Politics.”
“This is their bread and butter, and they have to protect it,” he said.
CNN’s Josh Campbell and Katie Bo Lillis have a very good dissection of what you can actually see in the documents and what it tells us. See that here.
Trump was on a tear on social media. Still claiming he had previously declassified the documents, Trump also criticized that they were arranged “haphazardly” on the floor.
While Trump makes his case on his social media platform, his lawyers will be making his legal case in federal court on Thursday, hoping to beat back the DOJ’s filing and get a “special master” who could slow things down.