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Trump lawyers oppose Justice Department effort to regain access to seized documents

Trump lawyers object to special master picks
Former President Donald Trump's lawyers object to DOJ's nominations for special master 04:33

Washington — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Monday urged a federal judge to continue to block Justice Department investigators from reviewing more than 100 sensitive documents seized by the FBI during its search at Mar-a-Lago, the latest in the legal back-and-forth between the former president's legal team and federal prosecutors.

In a 21-page response to a Justice Department request asking the court to lift part of an order blocking the use of the documents for investigative purposes, Trump's lawyers called the federal probe into his handling of sensitive records "unprecedented and misguided," and said there is "no indication any purported 'classified records' were disclosed to anyone."

"Indeed, it appears such 'classified records,' along with the other seized materials, were principally located in storage boxes in a locked room at Mar-a-Lago, a secure, controlled access compound utilized regularly to conduct the official business of the United States during the Trump Presidency, which to this day is monitored by the United States Secret Service," Trump's legal team told the court.

In a separate filing Monday afternoon, lawyers for the former president also objected to the two candidates proposed by the Justice Department — retired judges Barbara Jones, who served on the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, and Thomas Griffith, who served on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington — to serve as an independent third party to review the records seized by the FBI during its Aug. 8 search at Mar-a-Lago. 

Trump's legal team did not detail why the former president is opposed to the Justice Department's special master suggestions, telling the court "it is more respectful to the candidates from either party to withhold the bases for opposition from a public, and likely to be widely circulated, pleading." They asked the court for permission to express their objections to Jones and Griffith only if the judge "specifies a desire to obtain and consider that information."

The Justice Department said in its own filing Monday evening that the court should select as special master either one of its candidates, Jones or Griffith, or Raymond Dearie, who Trump put forth as a candidate. Now a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, he's a former chief judge of that court and has served as a judge on the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

"Judges Jones, Griffith, and Dearie each have substantial judicial experience, during which they have presided over federal criminal and civil cases, including federal cases involving national security and privilege concerns," federal prosecutors said, noting that the three are available to perform the duties. 

The Justice Department said it "respectfully opposes" the second potential special master proposed by Trump's lawyers: Paul Huck, former general counsel to then Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. The Justice Department noted that Huck "does not appear to have similar experience."

The filings from Trump's lawyers and the Justice Department are the latest stemming from his request last month for a neutral third party to review the materials taken by federal investigators. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon authorized the appointment of the special master last week, and federal prosecutors notified the federal court in South Florida last week of their intent to appeal Cannon's decision. 

Justice Department lawyers, including its top national security officials, also asked Cannon to put part of her ruling on hold to allow investigators to continue reviewing a tranche of 103 records marked "confidential," "top secret" or "secret." 

Federal prosecutors argued in court papers the classification markings "establish on the face of the documents that they are government records," not Trump's personal records. They warned that the government and broader public will suffer what they view as "irreparable harm" if the materials cannot be reviewed and used in the criminal investigation into the former president's handling of sensitive records. 

The Justice Department also told the court last week that temporarily blocking investigators from reviewing and using of the most sensitive records taken from Mar-a-Lago would "frustrate the government's ability to conduct an effective national security risk assessment and classification review and could preclude the government from taking necessary remedial steps in light of that review," risking harm to U.S. national security and intelligence interests. 

But in opposing the motion from federal prosecutors, lawyers for the former president argued Monday that he had "broad authority" to declassify documents and, as a former president, has an "unfettered right" to access presidential records under the Presidential Records Act. The controversy surrounding the records, they told the court, is a "document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control."

"[T]he government wrongfully seeks to criminalize the possession by the 45th president of his own presidential and personal records," Trump's attorneys claimed.

In her ruling last week granting Trump's request for a special master, Cannon ordered the Justice Department to temporarily stop "reviewing and using" the materials for investigative purposes pending completion of the review by the special master. She did, however, allow the government to continue reviewing and using the records seized for "purposes of intelligence classification and national security assessments."

Cannon had ordered Trump and the Justice Department to submit by Friday a list of contenders to serve as special master, along with a proposed description of the mechanics of their review.  

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