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Some seized info could possibly be shielded by attorney-client privilege

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Former US President Donald Trump’s residence in Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida on August 9, 2022.

Giorgio Viera | AFP | Getty Images

The Justice Department has accomplished its review of materials seized within the FBI raid of former President Donald Trump’s home Mar-a-Lago, including some information which may be protected by attorney-client privilege, the DOJ told a federal judge Monday.

The department’s completion of the review of the documents taken from Trump’s resort home could undermine his legal team’s bid to dam the DOJ from further analyzing those materials until a so-called special master is capable of examine them.

The “limited set” of probably privileged information was identified by a team that’s kept separate from the investigative squad that searched Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida residence earlier this month, DOJ officials said in a court filing in U.S. District Court in southern Florida on Monday morning.

The so-called Privilege Review Team “accomplished its review of those materials” and is following a process to “address potential privilege disputes, if any,” in line with that filing.

Attorney-client privilege often refers back to the legal doctrine that protects the confidentiality of communications between an attorney and their client. The DOJ’s filing provided no details concerning the potentially privileged materials.

The agency disclosed the privilege team’s review one week after Trump sued to dam the DOJ from further investigating any materials taken within the raid until a court-appointed “special master” is ready to investigate them.

Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, gave notice Saturday of her “preliminary intent to appoint a special master” within the case. Cannon ordered the federal government to publicly reply to Trump by Tuesday. She also ordered the DOJ to submit a filing under seal that gives more details concerning the seized materials and the status of its review.

In response, top DOJ counterintelligence official Jay Bratt assured the judge that the federal government will comply with those orders.

But “the federal government notes that, before the Court issued its Preliminary Order, and in accordance with the judicially authorized search warrant’s provisions, the Privilege Review Team … identified a limited set of materials that potentially contain attorney-client privileged information” and “accomplished its review of those materials,” Bratt wrote.

The DOJ and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, “are currently facilitating a classification review of materials recovered” from Trump’s residence, Bratt added. The ODNI “can be leading an intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security that may result from the disclosure of those materials,” he wrote.

Trump’s civil lawsuit is being overseen by a distinct judge than the one who approved the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago. The affidavit for that search warrant — wherein an FBI agent explained why the federal government had probable cause to imagine the search would turn up evidence of illegality — was released Friday, albeit with heavy redactions.

The National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago in January. The following month, NARA sent a referral to the DOJ that the records contained “highly classified documents intermingled with other records,” in line with the affidavit. By law, presidential records should be turned over to the National Archives when a president departs office.

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The FBI launched a criminal investigation and located that the 15 boxes included 184 specific documents marked classified, 67 of which were marked “confidential,” 92 marked “secret” and 25 marked “top secret,” in line with the affidavit.

The search warrant was revealed days after the FBI entered Mar-a-Lago in August. It indicated that FBI agents were on the lookout for materials showing violations of laws against obstruction of justice and the removal of official records, in addition to the U.S. Espionage Act. 

The FBI took no less than 20 boxes of things within the August raid, including quite a few sets of highly classified documents, in line with a property receipt that was also made public by the DOJ.

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