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Trump asks for a 'special master' to review Mar-a-Lago evidence

The entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach, Fla. estate is shown on Aug. 8, 2022, the day of the FBI's search there.
Terry Renna
/
AP
The entrance to former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach, Fla. estate is shown on Aug. 8, 2022, the day of the FBI's search there.

Updated August 22, 2022 at 6:51 PM ET

Former President Trump is asking a federal court to appoint a special master to review the documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago this month during a court-authorized search.

In a motion filed in federal court in Florida, Trump also is seeking to prevent the government from further reviewing the documents that were taken until a special master is appointed, and he wants the government to provide more details on items that were taken during the search.

The legal action is the first from Trump's attorneys since FBI agents executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago two weeks ago.

"Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes," the filing says. "Therefore, we seek judicial assistance in the aftermath of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid on President Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago."

Trump's attorneys argue that the search raises Fourth Amendment concerns and that the warrant used was overly broad. They also say the department took the unprecedented step of searching the former president's home despite what Trump's attorneys say was his voluntary assistance with investigators over several months.

In a statement, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley reiterated that the search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was "authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause."

The department is aware of Trump's motion, he said, and will file its response in court.

Last Friday, the judge in the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, gave the Justice Department one week to provide a redacted copy of the affidavit used to justify the unprecedented search of Trump's residence. Multiple media organizations had asked the judge to unseal all documents related to the search, notably the affidavit laying out the reasoning and research. At a hearing last Thursday, the organizations said they do not want to release any information that would have a chilling effect on current or future witnesses, endanger people involved in the probe or compromise the investigation.

The Justice Department argued at the hearing that redacting the affidavit would leave no information of substance to release and also noted that the search itself and release of the warrant last week had created a volatile situation where FBI agents have already received death threats.

The Justice Department must give Reinhart their proposed redacted version by Thursday at noon. The judge has not said what, if anything, he will ultimately order made public.

While the Justice Department asked the court to unseal the warrant, citing intense public interest, it has argued strongly against releasing the affidavit, saying doing so could compromise its investigation, other probes, the possibility of future witness cooperation and the safety of agents and individuals named in the affidavit.

The warrant shows that FBI agents retrieved documents labeled classified, secret, top secret and confidential as well potential presidential records. It also reveals that the Justice Department is investigating the potential violation of three federal statutes, including the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice.

The genesis of the investigation comes from an unlikely source: the National Archives. This winter the agency, in charge of cataloguing and storing important government documents, retrieved 15 boxes of key presidential records that it said Trump was improperly and possibly illegally keeping at home.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.