Tuesday, March 28

US court unseals more documents stemming from FBI search of Trump’s home

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WASHINGTON, Sept 2 (Reuters) – A federal court in West Palm Beach on Friday unsealed more documents tied to the FBI’s unprecedented Aug. 8 search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, after media outlets asked for the records to be made public.

The unsealing by US District Judge Aileen Cannon came one day after she heard oral arguments by Trump’s attorneys and the Justice Department’s top two counterintelligence prosecutors on whether she should appoint a special master to conduct a privilege review of the seized materials at Trump’s request.

Cannon deferred ruling immediately on whether to appoint a special master, but said she would agree to unseal two records the Justice Department had filed under seal.

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One of the records, released on Friday, provides a little more detail about the 33 boxes and other items the FBI found inside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, as part of its ongoing criminal investigation into whether he illegally retained national defense information and tried to obstruct the probe.

It shows that documents with classification markings were at times co-mingled with other items such as books, magazines and newspaper clippings.

In addition to records labeled as “top secret,” “secret” and “confidential,” there were also empty folders.

Some empty folders had a banner marked “classified”, while others indicated that they should be returned to staff secretary/military aide.

In total, there were 18 records marked as “top secret” – the highest classification level reserved for the country’s most closely-held secrets.

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The other record that was unsealed is a brief three-page filing by the Justice Department updating the court about the status of its investigative team’s review of the documents seized.

That filing, dated Aug. 30, said investigators had “completed a preliminary review of the materials seized” and segregated all the records with classification markings.

“The seized materials will continue to be used to further the government’s investigation, and the investigative team will continue to use and evaluate the seized materials as it takes further investigative steps, such as through additional witness interviews and grand jury practice,” it says.

The Justice Department’s criminal investigation could be potentially put on pause if Cannon agrees to appoint a special master to come in and conduct an independent third-party review of the seized records.

However, Cannon signaled at Thursday’s hearing she might be willing to allow US intelligence officials to continue reviewing the materials as part of their national security damage assessment, even if a special master is appointed.

The Justice Department has previously said in court filings it has evidence that classified documents were deliberately concealed from the FBI when it tried to retrieve them from Trump’s home in June.

The Justice Department also opposes the appointment of a special master, saying the records in question do not belong to Trump and that he cannot claim they are covered by executive privilege, a legal doctrine that can be used to shield some presidential communications.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Chizu Nomiyama

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