Justice Department sees evidence of obstruction in Trump search

Washington: The US Justice Department says it has found evidence to suggest that documents removed from the White House when Donald Trump left office were later concealed at his Florida home to obstruct a federal investigation into their whereabouts.

A Trump lawyer “explicitly prohibited” FBI agents from looking in boxes in a storage room at Trump’s property during a June search, the department said in a court filing.

Donald Trump and the receipt for property that was seized at Mar-a-Lago.Credit:AP

“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 argued in a filing in US District Court in the Southern District of Florida.

The department’s filings on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) come ahead of a Thursday court hearing before US District Judge Aileen Cannon in West Palm Beach. She is weighing Trump’s request to appoint a special master who would conduct a privilege review of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago on August 8, many of which are labelled as classified.

A special master is an independent third party sometimes appointed by a court in sensitive cases to review materials potentially covered by attorney-client privilege to ensure investigators do not improperly view them.

A special master was appointed, for instance, in the searches of the homes and offices of two of Trump’s former attorneys: Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen.

The department rejected any attempt by Trump to delay investigators’ review of the seized documents, saying Tump “will suffer no injury absent an injunction – let alone an irreparable injury; and the harms to the government and the public would far outweigh any benefit” to him.

An “appointment of a special master would impede the government’s ongoing criminal investigation and – if the special master were tasked with reviewing classified documents – would impede the Intelligence Community from conducting its ongoing review of the national security risk that improper storage of these highly sensitive materials may have caused and from identifying measures to rectify or mitigate any damage that improper storage caused,” the department said.

In Trump’s initial request to the court, his lawyers claimed the former president wanted to protect materials that were subject to a legal doctrine known as executive privilege, which can shield some presidential communications.

But legal experts called that argument into question, saying it was nonsensical for a former president to claim he wanted to assert executive privilege against the executive branch itself.

Reuters, Bloomberg

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