Trump sues justice department over Mar-a-Lago search
Former US President Donald Trump has asked a judge to freeze a justice department investigation of files seized from his home in an FBI search.
In a lawsuit, his legal team asked that an independent lawyer be appointed to oversee documents that agents removed from Mar-a-Lago in Florida this month.
Eleven sets of classified files were taken from Mr Trump’s estate on 8 August, according to the FBI.
Mr Trump is being investigated for potentially mishandling documents.
On Monday, his lawyers asked that a third-party attorney – known as a special master – be appointed to determine whether the seized files are covered by executive privilege, which allows presidents to withhold certain communications from public release.
Special masters are normally appointed in criminal cases where there are concerns that some evidence may be protected under attorney-client privilege, or other protections that could make it inadmissible in court.
“It is unreasonable to allow the prosecutorial team to review them without meaningful safeguards,” the 27-page lawsuit argues.
“Short of returning the seized items… only a neutral review by a special master can protect the ‘great public interest’ in preserving ‘the confidentiality of conversations that take place in the president’s performance of his official duties.'”
The Department of Justice said in a brief statement that prosecutors were aware of Mr Trump’s lawsuit, and would respond in court. The “search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was authorised by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause”, said spokesman Anthony Coley.
The legal action was filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, before a judge that Mr Trump nominated to the bench in 2020.
It repeats Mr Trump’s argument that the FBI search was a politically motivated effort to block his potential presidential ambitions in 2024, and the election prospects of other Republican candidates for November’s mid-term congressional races.
“President Donald J Trump is the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary and in the 2024 General Election, should he decide to run,” the filing says.
“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans,” it continues. “It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes.”
The “shockingly aggressive move” on Mar-a-Lago by about two dozen FBI agents took place “with no understanding of the distress that it would cause most Americans”, said Mr Trump’s lawyers.
The New York Times reported on Monday that agents have so far recovered over 300 documents with classified markings from Mr Trump since he left office in January 2021.
Monday’s legal action also says that Mr Trump and his team want the justice department to provide a more detailed list of what was taken during the FBI search.
The lawsuit says the justice department “simply wanted the camel’s nose under the tent so they could rummage for either politically helpful documents or support efforts to thwart president Trump from running again”.
The court filing further argues that Mr Trump had been co-operating with agents before the FBI turned up unannounced at his home.
His lawyers say the warrant was overly broad and the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.
Mr Trump’s legal team says that three days after the search they contacted an FBI agent that had visited Mar-a-Lago in June to ask for his help in passing along a personal message from Mr Trump to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The brief message recorded in Monday’s lawsuit said that Mr Trump had heard “from people around the country about the raid”.
“If there was one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry’,” the message from Mr Trump continued.
“The heat is building up. The pressure if building up.
“Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know.”
The judge that approved the search warrant – an unprecedented criminal investigation of a former US president’s home – is still determining whether to release the affidavit, the sworn evidence that was presented as a justification for the inquiry.
On Monday, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said proposed government redactions to the affidavit were so extensive as to make it “meaningless” if disclosed, though he said he still believed it should not remain completely sealed given the public interest in the case.