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Trump opposes DOJ bid to resume review of classified documents

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage on the Conservative Political Motion Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas, August 6, 2022.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Monday urged a federal judge to reject an effort by the Department of Justice to resume its review of documents seized from Trump’s home while the agency appeals the judge’s decision to appoint a special master within the case.

Judge Aileen Cannon’s order authorizing the appointment of the special master — an independent third party to look at the seized records for private items and possibly privileged material — “is a smart preliminary step towards restoring order from chaos,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

“The Government should subsequently not be permitted to skip the method and proceed straight to a preordained conclusion,” they argued in U.S. District Court in southern Florida.

The FBI seized 1000’s of presidency records when it raided Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort home in Palm Beach, Florida, on Aug. 8. Lots of those documents bore classification markings, including dozens of folders that were empty once they were collected by the FBI.

The Justice Department has argued that a special master is unnecessary, because a team of agency officials had already accomplished a review of the documents to exclude material from prosecutors protected by attorney-client privilege. The DOJ also argued the appointment of a special master could harm the federal government’s national security interests within the criminal investigation.

Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, last week ordered a special master to look at the records before turning them over to federal prosecutors. Her order also temporarily blocked the DOJ from further reviewing the documents bearing classification markings.

The DOJ on Thursday appealed Cannon’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the eleventh Circuit, which holds appellate jurisdiction over cases from district courts in Florida.

The identical day, the federal government also asked Cannon to remain her order enjoining review of the classified-marked documents while the appeal is proceeding.

On Friday, Trump and the DOJ each submitted two candidates to function special master, while expressing disagreements concerning the scope of the review of the seized records. The DOJ wants the special master to send any alleged executive privilege documents to the National Archives and Records Administration, while Trump’s attorneys say there isn’t any need for the special master to achieve this.

In a separate filing Monday, Trump’s attorneys said they opposed the DOJ’s proposed special master picks. They asked the judge for permission to share the explanations for his or her opposition in private, saying “it’s more respectful to the candidates from either party to withhold the bases for opposition from a public, and more likely to be widely circulated, pleading.”

Trump has publicly claimed he declassified the records that were found at Mar-a-Lago. His attorneys do circuitously echo that claim in Monday’s filing, but argue the Justice Department is incorrect to assume that “if a document has a classification marking, it stays classified regardless of any actions taken during President Trump’s term in office.”

The federal government “has not proven these records remain classified,” the previous president’s lawyers wrote.

Some former DOJ officials and legal experts have criticized Cannon’s order authorizing the special master. Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr said last week that he considered the ruling “deeply flawed in a variety of ways” and that he hoped the DOJ would appeal it.

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