The U.S. Justice Department said Monday that it found “a limited set of materials” that might contain information about President Donald Trump’s private contacts with his attorneys that should be excluded from the government’s investigation of highly classified documents it seized three weeks ago from Trump’s oceanside estate in Florida.
Prosecutors, in a court filing in Florida, said they would provide more information in the coming days about what they found in the 20 boxes of materials FBI agents took from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago during a court-approved search of the property.
The material taken in the unannounced August 8 search included 11 files marked with varying degrees of national security classifications that Trump took with him when his term as president ended on January 20, 2021, rather than turning them over to the National Archives as required by U.S. law.
Attorney General Merrick Garland authorized the search, and it was approved by a federal magistrate judge in Florida, after prosecutors suspected that Trump had not turned over all the classified documents he was holding even after handing over hundreds of pages of classified materials to the Archives in January and June.
A search warrant authorizing the FBI agents to look for the material said the government is investigating whether espionage and obstruction of justice laws were violated.
But under U.S. criminal justice procedures, any contacts, written or conversational, that Trump might have had with his attorneys would be considered privileged.
As such, the information from such an attorney-client contact could not be used by prosecutors if the Justice Department eventually takes the unprecedented step of pursuing criminal charges against the former president, which at this stage of the investigation is by no means a certainty.
Trump’s lawyers have also asked that a special master be named to review the seized material and U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon said Saturday she was inclined to grant his request pending a further hearing on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear how the Justice Department’s review looking for potentially privileged information on Trump’s contacts with his lawyers would affect the former president’s request for the special master to essentially conduct the same review.
In the Florida court filing Monday, the prosecutors also said that the Justice Department and the office of Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines are reviewing the classified material that Trump had stored at Mar-a-Lago, his wintertime home.
In addition, Haines has told key lawmakers overseeing U.S. intelligence matters that her office is assessing the potential risk to national security that would have resulted from disclosure of the material Trump was holding.