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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Trump sues Justice Dept over Mar-a-Lago search


 Former US President Donald Trump has asked a judge to freeze the justice department’s investigation of files seized earlier this month from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida.

In a lawsuitfiled on Monday, his legal team asked that an independent lawyer be appointed to oversee the documents that FBI agents took on August 8, the BBC reported.

In the 27-page document filed in a Florida court, Trump’s legal team has accused the justice department’s search as “simply wanting 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”, the BBC report quoted from court filings.

Eleven sets of classified files were taken from Trump’s estate, according to the FBI.

The former Republican president is being investigated for potentially mishandling sensitive documents.

As per rule, US presidents must transfer all of their documents and emails to a government agency called the National Archive when their term ends.

The federal agency is investigating whether Trump improperly handled records by taking them from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left office in January 2021. He has denied any wrongdoing and said the items were declassified.

“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,” Trump team’s submission said.

“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans…It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes,” it added.

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 Trump’s lawyers.

The Department of Justice said in a brief statement that prosecutors were aware of 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”, the BBC report quoted DoJ spokesman Anthony Coley as saying.

A New York Times report on Monday said FBI agents have so far recovered over 300 documents with classified markings from Trump, including material from the CIA, the National Security Agency and the FBI.

Trump’s legal action was filed in West Palm Beach, Florida, before a judge whom Trump nominated to the bench in 2020.

Trump is suing for more detailed list of exactly what was taken from his estate and is asking for the government to return any item which was not in the scope of the search warrant.

His lawyers have also asked that a “neutral” third-party attorney – known as a special master – be brought in 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 BBC report explained.

The court filing argued Trump has been co-operating with agents before the FBI turned up unannounced at his home.

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, the BBC said.

His legal team also accuse the government of leaking “ever-changing, and inaccurate, ‘justifications'” for the search to favoured media outlets.

The judge who 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. He although believed it should not remain completely sealed given public interest in the case.

Trump previously maintained he had done nothing wrong. He has said all documents he took from the White House when he left office in January 2021 had already been declassified by himself.

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