Donald Trump seeks to withhold two folders seized at Mar-a-Lago

The former US president is trying to exclude a specific set of seized documents from an inquiry into his handling of government records

Donald Trump is seeking to withhold from the justice department two folders marked as containing correspondence with the National Archives and signing sheets that the FBI seized from his Mar-a-Lago resort, according to court filings in the special master review of the confiscated documents.

The former US president’s privilege assertions over the folders, which appear to have direct relevance to the criminal investigation into whether he retained national defense information and obstructed justice, are significant as they represent an effort to exclude the items from the inquiry and keep them confidential.

Most notably, Trump asserted privilege over the contents of one red folder marked as containing “NARA letters and other copies” and a second, manilla folder marked as containing “NARA letters one top sheet + 3 signing sheets”, a review of the court filings indicated.

The former president also asserted privilege over 35 pages of documents titled “The President’s Calls” that included the presidential seal in the upper left corner and contained handwritten names, numbers, notes about messages and four blank pages of miscellaneous notes, the filings showed.

Other things Trump is seeking to withhold include a 2017 letter concerning former special counsel Robert Mueller, emails about election fraud lawsuits in Fulton County, Georgia, and deliberations about clemency to a certain “MB”, Ted Suhl and former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.

A person close to the legal team referred questions about whether Trump was claiming attorney-client or executive privilege over the folders with the National Archives letters to a spokesman. The spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The documents the former president is attempting to withhold from the criminal investigation by asserting some sort of privilege – it was not clear whether he asserted executive or attorney-client privilege over the two folders, for instance – became clear after a Friday ruling by the special master.

In the three-page order, US district court judge Raymond Dearie – appointed as the special master with a mandate to screen the seized materials for potential privilege issues – made public the unique identifier numbers for documents for which Trump is not claiming privilege.

Ordinarily, the exact nature of the documents being claimed as protected would remain private. But an apparent docketing error by the court earlier in the week revealed the seized materials that the justice department’s “filter team” identified as potentially privileged.

By comparing the unique identifier numbers for which Trump was not claiming privilege with the inadvertently unsealed list of potentially privileged documents, the Guardian was able to identify which documents the former president was seeking to withhold from the department.

The special master directed that the “filter team” should transfer the documents not deemed to be privileged by Trump to the “case team” conducting the criminal investigation before 10 October, the ruling showed.

Once the documents are transferred, the special master wrote, Trump’s lawyers and the department should confer and attempt to resolve any disputes about executive privilege over the remaining records before 20 October – and then submit any outstanding issues to him to decide.


Hugo Lowell in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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