DOJ: Classified documents at Mar-a-Lago ‘likely concealed and removed’

Federal agents searched former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate after developing evidence that government records were “likely concealed and removed” in defiance of a grand jury subpoena, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) court documents filed late Tuesday evening.

The filing details the chronology of federal officials’ months-long attempt to recover presidential records and classified documents from Trump’s Florida home, casting doubt on the former president’s team’s claims that a “diligent search” was conducted and all documents requested by the May subpoena were returned.

Among the details revealed by the filing were that classified documents were found in Trump’s own desk during the search, as they recovered some 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records when agents searched Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8.

Trump has claimed the search warrant of Mar-a-Lago was unnecessary since he was cooperating with the National Archives and federal officials. But the new filing is the most detailed account yet from the DOJ contesting Trump’s claims of cooperation.

“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,” DOJ wrote in its filing.

“These concerns are not hypothetical in this case,” DOJ added, noting that an obstruction of justice statute was listed on the warrant to search Trump’s property.

The filing breaks further down the back-and-forth with Trump’s team, including releasing for the first time a June 3 letter from Trump’s legal team offering assurances that all documents had been returned in accordance with a subpoena asking for any remaining materials with classified markings.

The filing notes that when DOJ came to retrieve them “the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room.”

The June materials included 38 documents with different levels of classification markings — a figure quickly surpassed in August when the FBI seized more than 100 classified records at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s representative on June 3 certified that the former president’s team had returned all responsive documents to the subpoena asking for classified documents still in his possession, the court filing states.

But the DOJ said the FBI seized 33 boxes containing more than 100 classified records when it searched Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, including classified documents found in desks in Trump’s office. Trump’s team had said all presidential records taken from the White House were stored in the storage room.

The DOJ also included in its a filing a photo that shows some of the seized documents, including markings on some that indicate the documents were top-secret or sensitive compartmented information.

Some FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys that reviewed the seized documents had to receive additional clearances to view the materials, according to the filing.

“Terrible the way the FBI, during the raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, also reiterating his claim that he declassified the documents.

This image contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice on Aug. 30, 2022, and redacted by in part by the FBI, shows a photo of documents seized during the Aug. 8 search by the FBI of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The Justice Department says it has uncovered efforts to obstruct its investigation into the discovery of classified records at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. (Department of Justice via AP)

The case comes after a different Florida judge approved the search warrant for federal agents to investigate whether Trump and his team violated the Espionage Act, concealed or removed government records or obstructed a federal investigation. None of those statutes require that the mishandled documents be considered classified.

The filing marks DOJ’s response to Trump’s request that the court appoint a third-party special master to review documents seized by federal agents in the search, blocking the FBI from reviewing the materials it obtained.

Trump has claimed the documents are covered by attorney-client and executive privileges.

The Justice Department, which requested an extension of pages to fully respond, sought to eviscerate that argument, at times indicating Trump’s own claims that the documents were produced during his presidency simply reinforced their argument that they are not his property.

“Any Presidential records seized pursuant to the search warrant belong to the United States, not to the former President,” DOJ wrote.

“Plaintiff’s Motion, in fact, asserts that ‘the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago on August 8, 2022 . . . were created during his term as President.’ These are precisely the types of documents that likely constitute Presidential records.”

The Justice Department also argued Trump’s legal team erred in waiting two weeks to make such a request, as much of the work has been completed.

A filter team of DOJ staff not assigned to the case has already reviewed the seized materials and separated out those protected by attorney-client privilege, and investigators have already reviewed all the remaining documents Trump would potentially assert executive privilege over, according to the filing.

“It would do little or nothing to protect any legitimate interests that plaintiff may have while impeding the government’s ongoing criminal investigation, as well as the Intelligence Community’s review of potential risks to national security that may have resulted from the improper storage of the seized materials,” the DOJ said of Trump’s request.

The Justice Department noted that in its prior dealings with Trump’s legal team they never made any claims he has declassified any of the materials or sought to justify why Trump had them.

“Counsel for the former President offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records, including 38 documents with classification markings, remained at the premises nearly five months after the production of the 15 boxes and nearly one-and-a-half years after the end of the administration,” they wrote.

Updated at 10:54 a.m.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.