Some documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago were so sensitive that FBI agents needed a special clearance to look at them, DOJ says

Donald Trump holding papers.
Then-President Donald Trump holds up papers during a White House press conference.Alex Brandon/AP
  • Some records from Mar-a-Lago were so sensitive that agents needed special clearance to see them.

  • DOJ also has evidence showing efforts were "likely" taken to obstruct its investigation into Trump.

  • Trump said the documents were wrongly seized and wants them back; DOJ said they don't "belong to him."

Some of the documents that FBI agents retrieved after searching Mar-a-Lago were so classified that investigators needed special permission to view them, according to Justice Department court documents filed Tuesday.

The 36-page filing came as a response to former President Donald Trump's lawsuit last week requesting that a court-appointed "special master" be tasked with reviewing the materials the FBI seized after executing a search warrant at his Florida home on August 8.

In addition to detailing the highly classified nature of some records that agents recovered, the DOJ also revealed that it suspects there were efforts to obstruct its investigation into the former president's handling of national-security information and the haphazard way he stored the documents at Mar-a-Lago.

"In some instances, even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents," the filing said.

The department also attached exhibits to its filing, one of which was a photo showing some documents marked "contains sensitive compartmented information up to HCS-P/SI/TK." "HCS" refers to intelligence from clandestine human sources and is highly classified to protect their safety.

The Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, recently told lawmakers that her office is leading an investigation into the possible national-security risks that could arise if the records had been disclosed or fell into the wrong hands.

Documents seized during the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago
This image contained in a court filing by the DOJ on August 30, 2022, and redacted in part by the FBI, shows a photo of documents seized during the August 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.Department of Justice via AP

Trump, for his part, has railed against the FBI in the weeks since the raid and claimed that he had broadly declassified all the documents.

However, the Justice Department noted in its filing that Trump never asserted executive privilege or said anything was declassified in conversations preceding the search of his Florida estate. CNN also recently interviewed 18 former Trump-administration aides and officials, none of whom said they were aware of any standing declassification order.

Even if Trump had declassified the materials in his possession, it might not matter.

Section E of the Espionage Act, one of the three laws Trump is suspected of having violated, makes it a crime to retain any government records pertaining to the US's national defense, regardless of classification level.

The other two federal statutes Trump is suspected of having broken — 18 USC Section 2071 and 18 USC Section 1519 — criminalize the concealment, removal, and destruction of government records, also regardless of classification level.

However Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney, has told Insider he believes it'd be unlikely the DOJ would pursue a case against Trump if, in fact, the records had been declassified as he claims.

Investigators took the extraordinary step of seeking a search warrant against the former president after obtaining evidence that there may have been efforts to hamper its investigation into Trump's handling of government records.

In Tuesday's filing, the Justice Department detailed months of back-and-forth communications between US officials and Trump's team in which Trump and his representatives continuously resisted handing over the records that he improperly moved to Mar-a-Lago once he left office.

The government also "developed evidence" that official documents were "likely concealed and removed" from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago "and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation," the filing said.

Trump has sought to portray the search as politically motivated, and has applied to have the special master review the documents because he claims that many were covered by executive privilege and ought to be returned to him.

The Justice Department refuted that claim in its Tuesday filing as well, saying that Trump isn't entitled to a special master because the records in question "don't belong to him" and are the property of the US government.

Read the original article on Business Insider