The Justice Department urged a federal judge to force former President Donald Trump to confirm whether the FBI’s list of classified materials and other documents seized in the raid of his South Florida home is correct before an independent arbitrator decides whether any of the materials should be off-limits to federal prosecutors.
In a 20-page legal filing unsealed Monday, the Justice Department asked U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon to compel Mr. Trump to file a sworn affidavit detailing the materials seized during the FBI’s August raid of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago residence.
Lawyers for the government said the affidavit is critical to push back against unsupported claims by Mr. Trump that agents may have planted some of the documents with “classified” and “top secret” while they were searching his Palm Beach, Florida residence.
In a bid to discredit the raid, Mr. Trump had accused FBI agents of planting documents and also claimed that some of the materials had already been declassified.
If Mr. Trump’s lawyers verify the inventory, it would likely contradict their client’s claims that materials were planted. It would also confirm that “classified” and “top secret” documents were stored at Mar-a-Lago. Both admissions would be a big blow to Mr. Trump’s defense.
Justice Department lawyers wrote in the filing that they have already submitted an affidavit validating the seized inventory, so it’s only fair that Mr. Trump does the same.
“Now that plaintiff has reviewed the seized materials and claimed the overwhelming majority of them to be his personal records, consideration of fairness, integrity, and evenhandedness require plaintiff to do what the government has done — namely verify the property inventory or correct if he believes it to be in error,” they wrote. “A fair process requires both parties to ensure that the special master is adjudicating disputes over property actually seized from Mar-a-Lago.”
The lawyers said the affidavit would not hamper the government’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump violated the Espionage Act and possibly other federal laws regarding the handling of confidential government documents.
Special master Raymond Dearie, a veteran judge who was appointed as an independent arbitrator to review the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, in September asked Mr. Trump’s legal team to file an affidavit confirming the validity of the documents removed from his residence.
But Judge Cannon stepped in and agreed with the former president’s attorneys, ruling that Judge Dearie overstepped his authority by asking Mr. Trump to certify the government’s inventory list.
“The Court’s Appointment Order did not contemplate [Trump’s] obligation,” Judge Cannon in an October ruling, adding that “the parties and the Special Master now are situated to proceed forward with the review process.”
Judge Dearie was appointed by Judge Cannon at Mr. Trump’s request. He asked both sides to issue a detailed inventory list and certify it was accurate.
The Justice Department complied and filed an updated list showing that more than 100 documents with “confidential,” “secret” or “top secret” markings were seized from Mar-a-Lago.