A ‘filter team’ of FBI agents poring over 15 boxes of material seized from Mar-a-Lago has already completed its review of material that may involve attorney client privilege, and told a judge they would provide a more fulsome review of the material they removed.
That material, however, will remain under seal, following a federal district judge’s ‘preliminary intent’ to grant former President Donald Trump‘s request for a ‘special master’ to go through the documents.
‘The Privilege Review Team … identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information,’ the government wrote US District Judge Eileen Cannon in response to her weekend order.
The team has ‘completed its review of those materials, and is in the process of following the procedures … to address potential privilege disputes, if any,’ wrote US Attorney Antonio Gonzalez and Justice Department official Jay Bratt.
They further wrote that they will comply with the judge’s order to provide a ‘more detailed Receipt for Property’ that was seized from former President Donald Trump under a search warrant on August 8.
The government’s progress report on its efforts to go through the seized material comes after Trump sued and demanded a ‘special master’ to perform a similar function.
Some former prosecutors questioned what exactly such a person would do, and pointed to a lack of precedent for having a third party sort through a former president’s claims, which included a broader executive privilege claim that president’s usually invoke when shielding documents while they are in government from Congress or other entities.
U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon issued a preliminary order revealing her inclination to appoint a special master to go through documents seized from Mar-a-Lago
Such a person would need a top level security clearance, given what the government has already revealed about the trove of material uncovered at Mar-a-Lago after a subpoena and subsequent search warrant.
The letter also references an ongoing ‘classification review’ by the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The letter comes after U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon signaled her ‘preliminary intent’ to grant Trump’s request of having a special master go through documents.
Judge Cannon issued her preliminary order Saturday evening, just hours after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the affidavit that bolstered the search warrant that FBI agents carried out August 8.
That document provided new insight into the trove of classified documents that were stored at the former president’s club, including information that could compromise ‘clandestine human sources.’
Judge Cannon issued her order in response to Trump’s blistering lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
The government responded to a judge’s order that it provide more detailed list of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago
A ‘filter team’ has completed its review of documents that might implicate attorney client privilege
The letter also references an ongoing ‘classification review’ by the office of the Director of National Intelligence
But she surprised some legal observers by tipping her inclination even before hearing opposing arguments from the government. It also is not clear that DOJ has yet been formally served in the case.
She set a hearing for Sept. 1, but said her order was not a ‘final determination.’
She also told DOJ, the defendant in this case, to provide a ‘more detailed report’ of ‘all property seized’ pursuant to the search warrant.
According to the redacted affidavit, agents seized not only highly classified materials, but also handwritten documents. Some of the papers were stored with other materials.
Trump’s initial suit drew criticism from legal experts online for failing to include exhibits or sworn statements, and for airing Trump’s grievances with the Russia probe.
‘The Government has long treated President Donald J. Trump Unfairly,’ reads one subject heading in the lawsuit.
The Trump-appointed judge, who was confirmed in 2020, last week pushed Trump’s lawyers to clarify their basis for seeking a special master, asking them to show the ‘precise relief sought.’
The judge issued a ‘preliminary order’ and asked the government to respond by Tuesday
She told DOJ to provide a ‘more detailed’ report of what was taken
Trump’s team was vague, saying it wanted independent rulings on ‘privileged and potentially privileged materials.’ Sometimes third parties are appointed to sort through documents that may be governed by an attorney-client privilege, although Trump isn’t a lawyer.
Then on Friday, Trump’s lawyers filed a new motion seeking the special master who would serve as a third party to sort through information that was seized. His team said the redacted affidavit strengthened the case for a special master, saying the document ‘provides almost no information that would allow Movant to understand why the raid took place, or what was taken from his home.’
Trump has fumed at the seizure of documents he contains are protected by executive privilege, blasted agents for taking three passports, which the government returned after they were found within materials that agents took.
Saturday’s latest judicial twist in the Trump saga drew skeptical commentary from some legal professionals.
‘Leaving aside how far Judge Cannon is going to accommodate Trump, it’s not like appointing a special master changes anything about Trump’s potential liability or the legitimacy of DOJ’s search. It’s about the possible return of *some* of the seized materials — and nothing more,’ wrote University of Texas law professor Steve Vladek.
The ‘preliminary order’ came on a day when it was revealed Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has told Congress the U.S. intelligence community will undertake a damage assessment of the trove of classified material held at former President Trump’s Florida golf club for more than a year.
The assurance, contained in a letter to House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney and House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, is the first indication that the Biden administration will evaluate the potential national security risks.
‘Mar-a-Lago is a historical mansion with 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms on 17 acres of land extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway,’ the suit points out. A DOJ official was shown a storage room where government documents were stored alongside clothing
The suit demands a special master oversee materials seized in the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago, and calls Donald Trump the ‘clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary’
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines has told two congressional committees that her office will conduct an ‘assessment of the potential risk to national security’ with the disclosure of documents returned from Mar-a-Lago
It comes after a heavily redacted document released Friday revealed 15 boxes of documents returned from Mar-a-Lago contained 184 classified documents, 67 confidential documents and 25 top secret documents.
Included in the trove were documents that could compromise ‘clandestine human sources’ – the type of information that could pose a grave risk to people furnishing secrets to the US government.
Haines told the two panel chairs that her office will conduct an ‘assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents,’ according to a letter dated Friday.
The two committee chairs said the unsealed affidavit ‘affirms our grave concern that among the documents stored at Mar-a-Lago were those that could endanger human sources. It is critical that the [Intelligence Community] move swiftly to assess and, if necessary, to mitigate the damage done—a process that should proceed in parallel with DOJ’s criminal investigation.’
Maloney had turned up the heat on the pressure for a review on Friday, when she tweeted that Trump’s ‘reckless handling of our country’s most sensitive documents placed our national security at grave risk and blatantly violated the Presidential Records Act.’
She said it made such an assessment ‘even more urgent.’
Schiff tweeted Friday: ‘The redacted affidavit makes clear Trump kept highly-classified national defense information at a public resort. If that wasn’t alarming enough, some wasn’t even in folders, merely intermixed with news clips and other debris. The IC must do an immediate damage assessment.’
Mar-a-Lago is a private club where Trump lives. Paying members can bring guests, attend benefits, or even hold weddings.
The ‘PREMISES are not authorized to store classified information,’ the newly unsealed documents note.
Politico first reported the letter, dated Friday, on Saturday.
The White House has declined to say if there was any security risk posed by daily revelations about hundreds of government documents that were held at Mar-a-Lago, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Biden both stressing the independence of the Justice Department and insisting the White House did not know about the FBI’s August raid in advance.
‘No one at the White House was briefed’ said Jean-Pierre.
The new review will require intelligence officials and Justice Department lawyers with combing through documents to evaluate what secrets if any might have been compromised during their storage at a club. Haines’ letter suggests that a Justice Department team separate from the agency’s criminal investigators working the case would be used.
President Joe Biden is spending the weekend in Wilmington. He mocked the Trump camp’s claims of classification authority as having voided the matter
Former President Donald Trump ripped the FBI and the judge who signed the warrant for the search of his Florida home
The Department of Justice has released the redacted affidavit setting out the reasons leading up to the August raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and said 14 out of the 15 boxes retrieved earlier in the year had classified information
The reasons the DOJ gave for the redactions were also heavily redacted
The documents reveal a months’ long period where the National Archives was requested return of government documents from Mar-a-Lago
Biden on Friday mocked an assertion by members of the Trump camp that president has the authority to declassify material, which would obviate any violations of the law.
The search warrant indicated the FBI was investigating Espionage Act provisions dealing with removal and destruction of government documents. The affidavit documents reveal that the government could rely on authorities beyond those simply dealing with whether the government was classified or not.
‘I just want to know, I’ve declassified everything in the world. I’m President. I can do it — Come on! Declassified everything?’ Biden said Friday as he prepared to leave town.
‘I’m not going to comment. I mean, because I don’t know the detail. I don’t even want to know. I’ll let the Justice Department take care of that,’ Biden said.
According to the Haines letter, the Justice Department and her office ‘are working together to facilitate a classification review of relevant materials, including those recovered during the search.’
It would be done in a way that ‘does not unduly interfere with DOJ’s ongoing criminal investigation,’ she wrote.
Haines’ commitment comes amid new revelations from the documents that US Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart ordered released.
The materials include a precise tally of the extent of the classified or secret information that was stored at the private club for more than a year.
‘In total, Trump had 184 classified documents, 67 confidential, 25 top secret and handwritten notes in boxes returned to the National Archives, according to the document that states the FBI had ‘probable cause to believe evidence of obstruction would be found’ at his Florida home.
The FBI also conducted the search fearing that the release of classified documents could compromise ‘clandestine human sources’.
‘Based on my training and experience, I know that documents classified at these levels typically contain NDI,’ according to the signing agent’s affidavit, using the acronym for National Defense Information. ‘Several of the documents also contained what appears to be FPOTUS ‘s handwritten notes,’ the agent added, in reference to Trump.
A ‘preliminary triage’ revealed agents saw documents marked ‘HCS, FISA, ORCON, NORORN, and SI.’
Each of those abbreviations references a different type of information that the government requires be shielded in a certain way.
‘HUMINT Control Systems,’ or HCS, refers to information ‘designed to protect intelligence information derived from clandestine human sources, commonly referred to as human intelligence,’ DOJ notes.
‘Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’ or FISA information is to protect information from the nation’s overseas information gathering techniques.
The DOJ said it kept large portions of the documents redacted to protect the identity of civilian witnesses and members of law enforcement, including FBI agents, and fear it would ‘erode trust’ in the government’s investigation.
‘In short, the government has well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed,’ the document reads.
The affidavit also states that Trump’s Florida home did not have a secure place to secure the documents, so agents asked him to lock the basement where they had been kept.
On Truth Social he sent out a long-winded message first noting, ‘Affidavit heavily redacted!!!’
‘Nothing mentioned on “Nuclear,” a total public relations subterfuge by the FBI & DOJ, or our close working relationship regarding document turnover – WE GAVE THEM MUCH,’ Trump wrote.