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Trump Sues for Neutral Review of Seized Mar-a-Lago Documents (2)

Aug. 23, 2022, 2:46 PM

Former President Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit seeking appointment of a neutral third party to review material seized by the FBI during a search for classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

A so-called special master should be allowed to return to Trump any documents that are protected by attorney-client privilege before prosecutors are allowed to see them, according to the suit filed Monday in West Palm Beach, Florida.

The suit also seeks a court order requiring the Justice Department to halt its current review of the documents until a special master is appointed, and to return any materials not covered by a warrant executed on Aug. 8.

“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans; It cannot be weaponized for political purposes,” Trump’s lawyers said in the filing, “Therefore, we seek judicial assistance in the aftermath of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid on President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago.”

The case was assigned to US District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who assumed office in November 2020.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The lawsuit comes as a judge in a separate case is preparing to unseal portions of the FBI affidavit that was made is support of the search warrant. The judge ruled last week that the document should be partially unsealed and gave the DOJ until Thursday to propose redactions.

Police at former US President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Aug. 9.
Photographer: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg

Trump’s suit, coming two weeks after the search, is likely a delay tactic that won’t succeed, said former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. The DOJ has probably already started reviewing the documents with a so-called filter team, tasked with removing privileged material before prosecutors see it.

“It’s also highly unlikely that the material would contain anything privileged because classified documents don’t generally contain records covered by attorney-client privilege,” she said.

Privilege Claim

FBI agents carted away about 20 boxes containing 11 sets of classified documents -- some of them labeled top secret -- following the search. Trump’s passports, which had been seized, were returned to him.

Trump had previously asserted that some of the records taken from his Mar-a-Lago resort were protected by attorney-client privilege.

Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich didn’t respond to a message seeking comment. Christina Bobb, one of his lawyers in the search warrant case, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s lawyers Lindsey Halligan and James Trusty argued in the filing Monday that the American people deserve to know why the search warrant was issued when Trump “voluntarily cooperated” with the government’s “every request.” But the FBI found classified documents during the search even though another Trump lawyer had assured the DOJ in writing in June that all classified material had been returned.

Trump has made a variety of public claims to explain why he believes he did nothing wrong by taking the documents from the White House when he left office, including that he had a “standing order” to declassify records.

Federal investigations can involve separate “filter” or “taint” teams to identify and return privileged information; exposing primary prosecutors or agents to this material could disqualify them or place a future prosecution in legal jeopardy.

Read More: Trump Search Judge Cites ‘Historical Interest’ in Affidavit

The case is Trump v. United States of America, 9:22-cv-81294, US District Court for the Southern District of Florida (West Palm Beach).

(Updates with information about judge handling the case.)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Larson in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Tina Davis at

Joe Schneider, Steve Stroth

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.