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The Justice Department is doubling down on efforts to regain access to documents FBI agents seized during a raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate early last month.
Earlier reports said that FBI agents took around 100 documents that contained national security markings from Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla., estate on Aug. 8. Trump has said he declassified all documents in his possession before he left office.
The appeals court filing claimed that the government faces irreparable harm from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s previous ruling barring prosecutors and investigators from the documents while they are assessed by a special master, who will also consider any objections to the seizure of the documents filed by Trump’s legal team.
“The court’s order hamstrings that investigation and places the FBI and Department of Justice … under a Damoclean threat of contempt,” the Justice Department attorneys noted in their filing. “It also irreparably harms the government by enjoining critical steps of an ongoing criminal investigation and needlessly compelling disclosure of highly sensitive records, including to [Trump’s] counsel.”
The Justice Department’s widely expected escalation of the legal fight came one day after the Trump-appointed judge rebuffed prosecutors’ request for a stay that would essentially carve out the national security-related records — some bearing markings such as “Top Secret/SCI” — from the outside oversight Trump’s legal team requested.
The filing was an unsparing rejection of Cannon’s handling of the entire matter, saying it has jeopardized national security, is based on flimsy or baseless interpretations of executive privilege and could enable further obstruction of efforts to recover additional missing documents.
“The government’s need to proceed apace is heightened where, as here, it has reason to believe that obstructive acts may impede its investigation,” federal prosecutors argued.
While Cannon appeared to allow the FBI to engage in certain measures regarding the criminal probe, Justice Department attorneys argued that her guidance lacked so many specifics that the bureau was left “to discern that line for themselves on pain of contempt should the court later disagree with their judgments — a threat that will inevitably chill their legitimate activities.”
Prosecutors also alleged that barring access to the documents was also injurious to the U.S. intelligence community.
“The injunction also appears to bar the FBI and DOJ from further reviewing the records to discern any patterns in the types of records that were retained, which could lead to identification of other records still missing,” said the filing.
Meanwhile, the special master appointed by Cannon to examine the seized documents has formally begun the process.
Former chief federal judge Raymond Dearie has directed attorneys for the former president as well as the Justice Department to come to New York City for a “preliminary conference,” Fox News reported Friday.
Lawyers for the two parties are being asked to submit “proposed agenda items” to discuss by Sept. 19, the outlet added.
FBI officials say agents recovered around 100 items marked as ‘classified’ during the raid, though Trump has said he previously declassified everything in his possession before leaving office per his authority as president.
Fox News notes further:
Dearie was appointed by Cannon, a Trump appointee, who declined a request by the Department of Justice to lift the temporary prohibition of the department’s usage of around 100 classified records which were taken from Mar-a-Lago during the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s search on Aug. 8.
The former veteran chief federal judge will review and separate documents that are covered by claims of privilege.
A former top U.S. spy chief has said he believes the FBI came up short during its Aug. 8 raid.
John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. congressman from Texas whom Trump tapped to serve as director of national intelligence, told Fox News last week that the bureau “didn’t find what they were looking” for, based on his observations.
“I was a former federal prosecutor, United States attorney. Let me tell you what this is about. Good prosecutors with good cases play it straight. They don’t need to play games,” Ratcliffe said, in reference to Justice Department officials. “They don’t need to shop for judges, they don’t need to leak intelligence that may or may not exist.”