WASHINGTON — A criminal investigation into the presence of top-secret information at former President Donald Trump’s Florida home has “spiraled out of control,” his lawyers said Monday in urging a judge to leave in place a directive that temporarily halted core aspects of the Justice Department’s probe.
The Trump team also referred to the documents that were seized as “purported” classified records, suggesting his lawyers do not concede the Justice Department’s contention that highly sensitive, top-secret documents were found by the FBI in its Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago. The lawyers also asserted that there is no evidence any of the records were ever disclosed to anyone, and that at least some of the documents belong to him and not to the Justice Department.
The 21-page filing underscores the significant factual and legal disagreements between lawyers for Trump and the U.S. government as the Justice Department looks to move forward with its criminal investigation into the illegal retention of national defense information at Mar-a-Lago and into the potential obstruction of that probe.
The investigation hit a roadblock last week when U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon granted the Trump team’s request for the appointment of an independent arbiter, also known as a special master, to review the seized records and prohibited for now the department from examining the documents for investigative purposes.
The Justice Department has asked the judge to lift that hold and said it would appeal her ruling to a federal appeals court. The department said its investigation risked being harmed beyond repair if that order was not lifted, noting that confusion about its scope and meaning had already led the intelligence community to pause a separate risk assessment it was doing.
But Trump’s lawyers said in their own motion Monday that the order was a “sensible preliminary step towards restoring order from chaos.” They asked Cannon to leave it in place.
“This investigation of the 45th President of the United States is both unprecedented and misguided,” they wrote. “In what at its core is a document storage dispute that has spiraled out of control, the Government wrongfully seeks to criminalize the possession by the 45th President of his own Presidential and personal records.”
In the meantime, both sides on Friday night each proposed different names of candidates who could serve in the role of a special master, though they disagreed on the exact scope of duties the person should have.