Trump Mar-a-Lago documents probably concealed and removed, Justice Department says

Newly released photograph shows top secret documents spread out on carpeted floor

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US government documents, including classified files, appear to have been moved from a storage room at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate and concealed, the Justice Department said in a new court filing.

The department said moving the documents was probably part of an effort to obstruct a government investigation into the former president's possible mishandling of top secret documents.

The agency said more than 320 documents have been removed from Mr Trump's home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Before the FBI raid on August 8, the agency said it had uncovered "sources of evidence” showing that classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago.

“The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the storage room, and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the department said in its 36-page court filing.

A photograph released by the Justice Department shows some of the records found at Mar-a-Lago, with six of those documents bearing “Top Secret/SCI” or “Secret/SCI” classification markings.

SCI stands for “sensitive compartmented information”.

Other documents spread out on the carpeted floor are whited out. Next to those documents is a cardboard box containing gold-framed photographs, including a cover of Time magazine.

During the raid, the FBI seized evidences including 33 boxes that contained more than 100 classified records, including those belonging to the highest levels of classification, agency lawyers wrote in the court filing.

The Justice Department said it provided the new details on the background of the investigation to “correct the incomplete and inaccurate narrative set forth in plaintiff’s [Mr Trump's] filings”.

The court filing was in response to Mr Trump's request to appoint a special master, a third-party individual acting as an independent overseer of a case, to review documents taken by the FBI.

His team on Wednesday evening continued to argue for a special master in a legal response to the Department of Justice on the court's request.

"The Government should provide to the special master and to Movant a copy of the Seized Materials, a copy of the Search Warrant, and an unredacted copy of the underlying application materials," its filling read.

Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear arguments on his request.

The agency argued against the appointment of a special master, saying that the government records “do not belong to him [Mr Trump]”.

The Presidential Records Act, the agency said, makes clear that the US government has complete control over the records in question.

Furthermore, the agency said, “the harms to the government and the public would far outweigh any benefit to plaintiff [Mr Trump]”.

Lawyers for Mr Trump claimed that the former president had wanted to protect some of the documents as part of executive privilege, which shields private presidential communications.

Mr Trump has also, without evidence, claimed to have declassified the records.

Why US Justice Department may be investigating Trump for obstruction

This undated image released by the US Department of Justice, shows a photo attached as evidence to a court filing by the US District Court Southern District of Florida, of documents allegedly seized at Mar-a-Lago spread over a carpet.  - Documents at former US President Donald Trump's Florida home were "likely concealed" to obstruct an FBI probe into his potential mishandling of classified materials, the Department of Justice said in a court filing August 30, 2022.  The filing provides the most detailed account yet of the motivation for the FBI raid this month on Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, which was triggered by a review of records he previously surrendered to authorities that contained top secret information.  (Photo by Jose ROMERO  /  US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE  /  AFP)  /  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO  /  US Department of Justice"- NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

However, the Justice Department refuted those claims.

“When producing the documents, neither counsel nor the custodian asserted that the former president had declassified the documents or asserted any claim of executive privilege,” prosecutors wrote in the court filing.

An unsealed search warrant released earlier this month showed that Mr Trump is being investigated for potentially violating the Espionage Act as well as obstructing justice.

Mr Trump claims the raid on his home was illegal and has tried to portray it as a politically motivated stunt by President Joe Biden and the Justice Department.

“Terrible the way the FBI, during the raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor … and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see,” Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social media platform.

“Thought they wanted them kept secret? Lucky I declassified.”

Updated: September 01, 2022, 12:25 AM