Justice Dept. Has Reviewed Documents Seized in Mar-a-Lago Search

The Justice Department has completed an initial analysis of all sensitive documents seized from former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida estate three weeks ago and put aside any materials that might be covered by attorney-client privilege, according to a court filing on Monday.

On Saturday, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida suggested she was leaning toward the appointment of an arbiter, known as a special master, to independently review materials taken by federal agents. She ordered the Justice Department to respond by Tuesday and share a complete list of documents taken in the search on Aug. 8.

In her two-page order, Judge Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Mr. Trump in 2020, seemed to side with his legal team in its effort to appoint an independent expert to review material in the government’s possession, some of it highly classified, that was taken from the former president’s residence and resort.

That move — filed far later than is typical — is significant because it provides Mr. Trump’s team with an opportunity to contest the government’s seizure of specific documents whose ownership, and possibly classification levels, they see as being in dispute.

Monday’s filing, three pages long, is mostly legal boilerplate. But in it, lawyers at the Justice Department disclose that its privilege review team completed its assessment of the documents and set aside “a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client information,” a requirement that was mandated by the original search warrant issued by a federal magistrate judge in Florida this month.

A deeper “classification review” of the intelligence implications of Mr. Trump’s retention of government documents by the F.B.I. and the director of national intelligence is continuing, the filing revealed. The government affidavit, filed to justify the search, revealed concerns in the intelligence community that Mr. Trump’s possession of highly classified materials could compromise “clandestine human sources” collecting information overseas.

In both court papers and public statements, Mr. Trump and his lawyers have argued that some of the material seized at Mar-a-Lago could be protected by executive privilege, a vestige of his service as president. But legal scholars and some judges have expressed skepticism that former presidents can unilaterally assert executive privilege over records from their time in the White House. That power, the scholars and judges say, generally resides with the current president.

While Mr. Trump and his legal team have advanced arguments about executive privilege, most of the cases they cited in their filing asking for a special master concerned independent reviews of seized documents for those shielded by attorney-client privilege.

Also on Tuesday, the Justice Department is expected to file a detailed inventory of the materials seized. But that list, which will go into greater depth than the nominal description in the search warrant that was unsealed this month, will be filed under court seal.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and the department’s leaders have yet to decide if they will seek to unseal that document, according to officials.

Judge Cannon has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Thursday in a courtroom in West Palm Beach, Fla.

That the Justice Department has already completed its review could render Mr. Trump’s request for a special master duplicative, according to some legal experts. The judge herself will now have access to the government’s own assessment of the materials, and she could have the information needed to rule on requests by Mr. Trump’s team to exclude individual documents.

Soruce : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/29/us/politics/trump-documents-doj.html

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