Justice Dept Dismantles Trump Defense In Court Filing Rebuttal

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The Justice Department is seeking a partial lifting of an order from Trump-nominated federal Judge Aileen Cannon, who is broadly blocking — with highly limited, unclear exceptions — the investigative usage of documents recently seized from Trump’s southern Florida property Mar-a-Lago.

The specific documents to which the department wants investigative access restored are those marked as classified that were improperly stored there. (Numerous other materials were also seized in the August raid of Mar-a-Lago.) Cannon is instead supporting Trump’s push for a special master, meaning third-party expert, to review seized materials, and the individual filling that role — federal Judge Raymond Dearie, a Reagan nominee — was recently formally selected and already scheduled his first conference. Cannon also rejected a Justice Department push for the partial lifting, or partial stay, leading to the department’s latest entreaties before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the course of their recent appeal, the department notes Trump isn’t actually claiming in court — no matter any self-confident proclamations in public — that he declassified the materials at issue.

“Plaintiff has never disputed that the government’s search recovered records bearing classification markings,” the new appeal states, referring to Trump. “Instead, the district court cited portions of Plaintiff’s filings in which he suggested that he could have declassified those documents or purported to designate them as “personal” records under the PRA before leaving office. But despite multiple opportunities, Plaintiff has never represented that he in fact took either of those steps—much less supported such a representation with competent evidence. The court erred in granting extraordinary relief based on unsubstantiated possibilities.” The PRA is the Presidential Records Act, which is a piece of federal law that governs the handling of numerous records from presidential administrations.

The Justice Department also expressed concerns in its new appeal about rules for the newly unfolding special master process under which it must provide copies of the seized documents marked as classified for Trump’s legal team. “In criminal proceedings, courts have routinely rejected arguments that cleared defense counsel are entitled to classified information without the requisite “need to know”—even after a prosecution has commenced,” officials argued, going over a range of precedents covering the handling of classified material related to criminal proceedings. “Yet the district court here ordered disclosure of highly sensitive material to a special master and to Plaintiff’s counsel—potentially including witnesses to relevant events—in the midst of an investigation, where no charges have been brought. Because that review serves no possible value, there is no basis for disclosing such sensitive information.”

Other issues posed by Cannon’s directives include slowdowns on portions of government investigative work that don’t even concern potentially charging Trump, like examining potential national security fallout from disclosing the disputed materials. What was at Mar-a-Lago is extremely sensitive and reportedly even included information related to another country’s nuclear capabilities.