DOJ alleges 'obstructive conduct' by Trump's legal team in efforts to retrieve classified records

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(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Tuesday responded to former President Donald Trump’s call for a “special master” to review materials the FBI seized at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump’s lawyers have said the review is needed to deal with matters they argue may be covered by executive privilege.

In their 36-page filing, top department officials laid out in extraordinary detail their efforts to obtain highly classified records they allege were improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago since Trump’s departure from the White House, and the resistance, which they describe outright as obstructive conduct, that they were met with by Trump’s representatives in their efforts to have them handed over.

The government included multiple exhibits to support its argument, including one photo purporting to show an FBI photograph of documents recovered from a container in Trump’s personal office with colored cover sheets showing classification markings including TOP SECRET/SCI, with one showing a marking that appears to refer to information obtained by confidential human sources.

Officials revealed that after they issued a grand jury subpoena to Trump’s attorneys on May 11 to obtain all remaining classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, “the government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room [at Mar-a-Lago] and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” according to the filing.

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“This included evidence indicating that boxes formerly in the Storage Room were not returned prior to counsel’s review,” officials added in the filing, referring to a lawyer for Trump who said all the records from the White House “were stored in one location,” the storage room, and “that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched.”

The DOJ said in its filing that the subpoena return date was May 24, but Trump’s team asked for an extension that the government initially denied before offering an extension until June 7. A lawyer for Trump contacted the DOJ on June 2 “and requested that FBI agents meet him the following day to pick up responsive documents,” according to the filing.

This gets to the June 3 visit by a small group of FBI agents and Jay Bratt, the head of DOJ’s counterintelligence division, which ABC News has widely reported on. In the filing, the DOJ said the information produced during this visit was “a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents,” suggesting that counsel for Trump was handling the documents in a manner that was classified.

“When producing the documents, neither counsel nor the custodian asserted that the former President had declassified the documents or asserted any claim of executive privilege,” the filing said. “Instead, counsel handled them in a manner that suggested counsel believed that the documents were classified: the production included a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, containing the documents.”

In its filing, the DOJ also revealed that during this visit, Trump’s lawyers allowed a visit to the storage room but prohibited government personnel from looking through the boxes that remained in the storage room.

“Critically, however, the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained,” the filing said.

The DOJ said, “The individual present as the custodian of records produced and provided a signed certification letter.”

The Justice Department on Monday said its team tasked with identifying potential attorney-client privileged materials that were seized in the search on Aug. 8 has already completed its review and is in the process of addressing possible privilege disputes.

Judge Aileen Cannon has indicated she was leaning toward granting a request from Trump’s legal team to appoint a special master to intervene in the ongoing review of documents.

Trump’s lawyers have until Wednesday to file their response to a federal judge.

A hearing is currently set for Thursday at 1 p.m. in West Palm Beach where Judge Cannon will hear arguments from both sides on the request.

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