Lawyers for former President Donald Trump asked a federal judge on Monday to halt the FBI's review of documents recovered from his Florida estate earlier this month until a neutral special master can be appointed to inspect the records.
The request was included in a federal lawsuit, the first filing by Trump's legal team in the two weeks since the search, that takes broad aim at the FBI investigation into the discovery of classified records at Mar-a-Lago and that foreshadows arguments his lawyers are expected to make as the probe proceeds.
It comes as The New York Times reported that the government has recovered more than 300 documents marked classified from Mar-a-Lago since Trump left office, including more than 150 retrieved by the National Archives in January — a number that helped trigger the criminal investigation.
The lawsuit casts the 8 August search, in which the FBI said it recovered 11 sets of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, as a “shockingly aggressive move." It also attacks the warrant as overly broad, contends that Trump is entitled to a more detailed description of the records seized from the home and argues that the FBI and Justice Department has long treated him “unfairly”.
"Law enforcement is a shield that protects America. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes," the lawyers wrote Monday. “Therefore, we seek judicial assistance in the aftermath of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid” at Mar-a-Lago.
In a separate statement, Trump said “ALL documents have been previously declassified” — though he has not produced evidence to support that claim — and described the records as having been “illegally seized from my home." The Justice Department countered in a terse three-sentence statement pointing out that the search had been authorised by a federal judge after the FBI presented probable cause that a crime had been committed.
The filing requests the appointment of a special master not connected to the case who would be tasked with inspecting the records recovered from Mar-a-Lago and setting aside those that are covered by executive privilege — a principle that permits presidents to withhold certain communications from public disclosure.
In some other high-profile cases — including investigations involving Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen, two of Trump's personal attorneys — that role has been filled by a former judge.
“This matter has captured the attention of the American public. Merely ‘adequate’ safeguards are not acceptable when the matter at hand involves not only the constitutional rights of President Trump, but also the presumption of executive privilege,” the attorneys wrote.
The lawsuit argues that the records, created during Trump's White House tenure, are “presumptively privileged.” But the Supreme Court has never determined whether a former president can assert executive privilege over documents, writing in January that the issue is unprecedented and raises “serious and substantial concerns.”
The high court turned down Trump’s plea to block records held by the National Archives from being turned over to the Jan. 6 committee, saying then that his request would have been denied even if he had been the incumbent president, so there was no need to tackle the thorny issue of a former president’s claims.