Trump legal team responds to Justice Department on Mar-a-Lago documents review

DOJ has said it needs to keep using the documents in its criminal investigation.

September 12, 2022, 7:17 PM

Former President Donald Trump's legal team on Monday responded to the Justice Department in the latest round of court filings regarding the review of materials seized at his Mar-a-Lago country club last month.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday requested U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to stay the portion of her ruling enjoining the government from further review of abut 100 documents bearing classification markings taken during the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago Aug. 8.

The government cited the risk of "irreparable harm" to national security and its ongoing criminal investigation if she declined to grant its request for a stay.

PHOTO: Pages from a Department of Justice court filing on Aug. 30, 2022 are photographed early Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Included in the filing was a FBI photo of documents that were seized during the search.
Pages from a Department of Justice court filing on Aug. 30, 2022 are photographed early Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Included in the filing was a FBI photo of documents that were seized during the search.
Jon Elswick/AP

Cannon had required law enforcement to disclose those materials to a special master -- an independent third-party -- for review.

The DOJ said in Thursday's court papers that if Cannon doesn't grant a stay by Sept. 15, it will "intend to seek relief from the Eleventh Circuit" -- a federal appeals court.

The Trump legal team began its brief Monday calling the DOJ's investigation of Trump "both unprecedented and misguided," claiming it was "a document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control."

His lawyers describe Cannon's order appointing a special master as a "sensible preliminary step towards restoring order from chaos" and urge her to reject the department's motion for a stay that would prevent the handover of classified records that DOJ says has hampered their criminal investigation and the intelligence community's national security risk assessment.

Trump's lawyers argue there's no evidence any "purported "classified records" were disclosed to anyone," while describing Trump's Mar-a-Lago club as a "secure, controlled access compound."

They again continue to make no assertion that Trump ever declassified any of the documents recovered by the FBI, while instead putting the onus on the Justice Department to prove they "remain classified."

PHOTO: This is an aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 31, 2022.
This is an aerial view of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 31, 2022.
Steve Helber/AP

On Monday afternoon, Trump's legal team filed its position on the Justice Department's proposed candidates to serve as special master.

Trump's lawyers objected to the candidates put forward by DOJ in a joint filing on Friday, but said they would prefer not to give the public reasoning for their objections. Those government's two candidates were Barbara Jones, a retired federal district judge from the Southern District of New York who was also a special master in the Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani investigations and Thomas Griffith, a retired judge from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Plaintiff objects to the proposed nominees of the Department of Justice. Plaintiff believes there are specific reasons why those nominees are not preferred for service as Special Master in this case," the filing from the Trump legal team said.

"Plaintiff also submits 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, " they said. "Therefore, Plaintiff asks this Court for permission to specifically express our objections to the Government’s nominees only at such time that the Court specifies a desire to obtain and consider that information," the filing read. "Such information could then be provided in camera or pursuant to whatever procedure the Court deems most efficient and appropriate. Consistent with that approach, Plaintiff is willing to provide our specific rationale for supporting our nominees if and when the Court so orders."

Trump's lawyers have proposed two candidates, Raymond Dearie, a former chief judge of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York who served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and Paul Huck Jr., a former partner with the law firm Jones Day. Huck is the husband of Judge Barbara Lagoa who was previously on Trump's short list of potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Later Monday, the Justice Department submitted its own filing stating its support for three of the four candidates for special master put forward, while opposing one of the potential picks from Trump's team - Huck -- noting his lack of experience in the federal judiciary.

This would presumably Dearie, put forward by former Trump's team and now not opposed by DOJ, in the best position to be appointed by Judge Cannon as special master given the Trump legal team's opposition stated earlier to both of DOJ's candidates.

Both sides also have disagreed over what items should eventually be made available to the special master to review.

While DOJ said it plans to make available to Trump's team all documents recovered during their search that they assess to be unclassified, even if they're deemed to be government records that shouldn't have been in Trump's possession, they argue that any documents bearing classification markings have been segregated and they belong in the government's possession.

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