Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Monday asked a judge to continue blocking the Justice Department from reviewing classified documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon last week temporarily blocked the DOJ from using the records seized when the FBI searched Trump’s home on Aug. 8 until a special master is able to review them. The DOJ challenged her order later in the week.
In a court filing Monday that called the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump “unprecedented and misguided,” Trump’s lawyers claimed that “there still remains a disagreement as to the classification status of the documents” that bore classified markings. While Trump and his associates have claimed to the media that Trump, while president, declassified various documents, his lawyers did not make that claim explicitly.
The legal battle is over the government’s investigation into how hundreds of pages of classified government records continued to be held at Mar-a-Lago, even after a Trump lawyer had certified in June that there were no more classified records at the estate. Cannon, a Trump appointee, granted Trump’s request for a special master last Monday and temporarily blocked the government from using the classified files as part of its investigation.
Cannon did say that a national security review of the records could continue, but the Justice Department said that was complicated because the FBI is part of the intelligence community and “classification review and assessment are closely interconnected with — and cannot be readily separated from — areas of inquiry of DOJ’s and the FBI’s ongoing criminal investigation.”
Legal experts have called Cannon’s ruling deeply flawed, and the Justice Department argued that banning the executive branch from examining classified records that belong to the executive branch would cause “immediate and serious harms to the government and the public.”
The Justice Department last week notified the court it would appeal her ruling, and also asked Cannon to stay part of her ruling with regard to the classified documents, meaning the government could move forward with acting on the classified records before a special master weighed in.
But Trump’s lawyers said such a stay would “presuppose the outcome, at least as regards to what it deems are ‘classified records,'” and wrote there “is no indication any purported ‘classified records’ were disclosed to anyone.” The filing also said that, under the Presidential Records Act, the former president “has an unfettered right of access to his Presidential records even though he may not ‘own’ them.” They chalked the dispute over Trump’s retention of at least 11,000 pages of government documents up to a “civil matter” that was governed by the records act.
The government, Trump’s team argued, was trying to block a “reasonable first step towards restoring order from chaos and increasing public confidence in the integrity of the process.” They said that, unlike most criminal investigations, this investigation demanded public transparency at every step.
“As this Court correctly observed, a criminal investigation of this import — an investigation of a former President of the United States by the administration of his political rival — requires enhanced vigilance to ensure fairness, transparency, and maintenance of the public trust,” the filing signed by lawyer Christopher Kise read. “Given the significance of this investigation, the Court recognizes, as does President Trump, that it must be conducted in the public view.”
Many legal experts agree there’s a very strong case to be made against Trump, although they say the question of whether to actually charge the former president is a difficult one.