By Max Matza-BBC News
https://www.bbc.com-Image source, Getty Images
Former US President Donald Trump has asked a judge to freeze a justice department investigation of files seized from his home in an FBI search.
In a lawsuit, his legal team asked that an independent lawyer be appointed to oversee documents that agents removed from Mar-a-Lago in Florida this month.
Eleven sets of classified files were taken from Mr Trump’s estate on 8 August, according to the FBI.
Mr Trump is being investigated for potentially mishandling documents.
On Monday, his lawyers asked that a “neutral” third-party attorney – known as a special master – be appointed to determine whether the seized files are covered by executive privilege, which allows presidents to keep certain communications under wraps.
Special masters are normally appointed in criminal cases where there are concerns that some evidence may be protected under attorney-client privilege, or other protections that could make it inadmissible in court.
The Department of Justice (DoJ) said in a brief statement that prosecutors were aware of Mr Trump’s lawsuit, and would respond in court. The “search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was authorised by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause”, said spokesman Anthony Coley.
The 27-page legal action was filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, before a judge that Mr Trump nominated to the bench in 2020.
It says: “President Donald J Trump is the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican Presidential Primary and in the 2024 General Election, should he decide to run.”
“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans,” it continues. “It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes.”
The “shockingly aggressive move” on Mar-a-Lago by about two dozen FBI agents took place “with no understanding of the distress that it would cause most Americans”, said Mr Trump’s lawyers.
His legal team accused the government of leaking “ever-changing, and inaccurate, ‘justifications'” for the search to favoured media outlets.
The New York Times reported on Monday that agents had so far recovered over 300 documents with classified markings from Mr Trump, including material from the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI.
In a separate statement, Mr Trump maintained he had done nothing wrong, arguing that all of documents he took from the White House when he left office in January 2021 had already been declassified by himself.
Monday’s legal action says that the former president and his team want the justice department to provide a more detailed list of what was taken during the FBI search.
The lawsuit says the justice department “simply wanted the camel’s nose under the tent so they could rummage for either politically helpful documents or support efforts to thwart president Trump from running again”.
His lawyers say the warrant was overly broad and the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.
Mr Trump’s legal team says that three days after the search they contacted an FBI agent that had visited Mar-a-Lago in June to ask for his help in passing along a personal message from the former president to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The brief message recorded in Monday’s lawsuit said that Mr Trump had heard “from people around the country about the raid”.
“If there was one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry’,” the message from Mr Trump continued.
“The heat is building up. The pressure if building up.
“Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let us know.”
The judge that approved the warrant – an unprecedented criminal investigation of a former US president’s home – is still determining whether to release the affidavit, the sworn evidence that was presented as a justification for the FBI search.
On Monday, Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart said proposed government redactions to the affidavit were so extensive as to make it “meaningless” if disclosed, though he said he still believed it should not remain completely sealed given public interest in the case.
Trump records probe timeline
- January 2022 – The National Archives retrieves 15 boxes of White House records from Mar-a-Lago, and says some of the documents it received at the end of Trump administration had been torn up
- February – Reports emerge that classified files were found in the Mar-a-Lago cache and National Archives has asked DoJ to investigate
- April – US media report the FBI has begun a preliminary investigation
- 3 June – A senior DoJ official and three FBI agents travel to Mar-a-Lago to review items in a basement. According to Mr Trump, he told them: “Whatever you need, just let us know”
- 8 June – Federal investigators write to a Trump aide to ask that a stronger lock be used to secure the room storing the items. Trump says that request was quickly fulfilled
- 22 June – The Trump Organization receives a DoJ summons for CCTV footage from Mar-a-Lago
- 8 August – Dozens of agents search Mar-a-Lago, seizing more than 20 boxes, some containing top secret files, according to the warrant