Trump lawyers on Monday asked a judge to continue blocking the Justice Department from reviewing classified documents seized from his residence
WASHINGTON — On Monday, attorneys for former President Donald Trump urged a judge to maintain a temporary restraining order that prevents the Justice Department from analyzing sensitive materials that were seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, United States District Judge Aileen Cannon temporarily banned the Department of Justice from using the materials acquired when the FBI searched Trump’s house on August 8. This restriction will remain in place until a special master is able to review the documents. In the later part of the week, the DOJ filed a challenge to her order.
In a court filing that was submitted on Monday, Trump’s legal team claimed that “there still remains a disagreement as to the classification status of the documents” that bore classified markings. The filing also referred to the investigation into Trump that was being conducted by the Justice Department as “unprecedented and misguided.” Even though Trump, his associates, and other people associated with him have claimed to the media that Trump declassified different papers while he was president, his lawyers have not made this assertion officially.
The government is investigating how hundreds of pages of classified government records continued to be held at Mar-a-Lago, even after a Trump lawyer certified in June that there were no more classified records at the estate. The legal battle is over who is responsible for the investigation being conducted by the government. On September 5, Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, approved Trump’s request for a special master and temporarily prohibited the government from utilizing classified materials as part of its investigation. This was done as part of Cannon’s role as a Trump appointee.
Cannon did say that a national security review of the records could continue, but the Justice Department stated that it would be difficult to do so because the FBI is a 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 has argued that prohibiting 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.” Cannon’s ruling was issued in response to a case in which the executive branch was barred from examining classified records that belonged to another branch of government.
The Justice Department gave notice to the court last week that it would appeal her ruling, and it also asked Cannon to stay part of her ruling with regard to the classified documents. This means that the government could move forward with acting on the classified records before a special master weighed in on the matter.
However, according to Trump’s legal team, a stay of this nature would “presuppose the outcome, at least as regards to what it thinks are ‘classified records.'” and stated in their writing that “there is no indication that any supposed ‘classified records’ were leaked to anyone.” According to the filing, the former president “has an unconstrained right of access to his Presidential records even if he may not ‘possess’ them.” This is because the Presidential Records Act grants the former president this right. They referred to the disagreement on Donald Trump’s decision to keep at least 11,000 pages of government documents as a “civil matter” that was governed under the records act.
The administration was allegedly trying to prevent a “reasonable first step towards restoring order from turmoil and establishing public confidence in the integrity of the process,” according to the team working for Trump. According to what they said, this inquiry, in contrast to the majority of criminal investigations, wanted public transparency at every step.
In the filing, which was signed by a lawyer named Christopher Kise, it stated: “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.” This was written in reference to the fact that the investigation was being conducted by the administration of Trump’s political opponent. “Given the seriousness of this inquiry, the Court acknowledges, as does President Trump, that it is imperative that it be carried out in full view of the public.”
Two individuals have been suggested for the role of special master by both the Department of Justice and the team working for Trump. In a second filing on Monday, the Trump campaign stated that it did not support any of the candidates being considered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), but that it did not want the grounds for its opposition to be made public record.
Many legal professionals are of the opinion that there is a very strong case that can be made against Trump; nevertheless, they acknowledge that the question of whether or not to actually charge the former president is a challenging one.
John Yoo, a former employee of the Justice Department under George W. Bush who contributed to the writing of the “torture memos” on interrogation techniques after the attacks of September 11, and whose views of executive power held that the president can order the slaughter of an entire village, stated that Trump’s actions were in clear violation of the law. Yoo was a member of the team that drafted the “torture memos.”
“Trump is not permitted to obtain the records or keep them in his possession. He had access to the copies. However, he is powerless to prevent them from accessing the Archives. That’s a done deal, “Yoo said so during an interview with NBC News that took place at the National Conservatism Conference. “It is not a question of whether or not Trump broke the law. He did. It is not relevant whether or not the government had valid reasons for obtaining the search warrant. It does. The real question is whether or not he could be charged with anything.”
“The actual issue, and I think that both people on both sides should acknowledge this, is whether or not it is a good use of prosecutorial discretion — of judgment — to charge him,” Yoo said. “If you are going to go after a president for the first time in the history of the United States for violating a law, I believe it should be for something considerably more significant than this. This has been the opinion that I have held. Such as, for example, being a participant in the conspiracy surrounding January 6th.”
Trump’s most recent filing makes reference to what is known as “the Clinton sock drawer case,” which is a ruling from 2012 regarding the power of a former president, in this case Bill Clinton, to unilaterally decide what is a private record and what is a Presidential Records Act document in his post-presidential career. This is the first time that Trump has made reference to this ruling.
Conservative group Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit in an effort to compel former President Bill Clinton to hand over audio recordings that were allegedly recorded during his time in office and were kept at one point in a sock drawer, according to a report that aired on CBS in 2007. Because they were considered to be Clinton’s personal records, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who was chosen by President Barack Obama, decided that Clinton was not required to turn them up.
However, Trump’s defenders, who began bringing up the issue of the sock drawer case last month, have neglected to mention the fact that Jackson’s ruling explicitly states that the Presidential Records Act differentiates presidential records from “personal records.” Personal records are documents that have a “purely private or nonpublic character,” and the Presidential Records Act classifies presidential records as separate from personal records.
The Justice Department is expected to submit yet another document related to the case by Monday evening.