While Dearie oversees document reviews, FBI appears to be building an obstruction case, experts say


In the 11 weeks since agents raided Donald Trump’s Florida home and club, the FBI’s unprecedented criminal investigation of a former president has unfolded on two tracks — one largely public, the other largely public. It’s behind closed doors.

In a more public-facing segment, the lawsuit over the appointment of a special director to sift through thousands of seized documents has reverberated at all levels of the federal court system, with the special director — essentially an outside expert — speaking to the special Trump claimed that some people expressed suspicion or that the material should have been blocked by the FBI.

By contrast, the bureau’s investigative activities are harder to track, although some details are slowly leaking. Agents interviewed multiple witnesses about Mar-a-Lago’s handling of government documents. The Washington Post reported last week that a Trump employee told federal agents he moved boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago on specific instructions from the former president, and the FBI has video surveillance to back that up.

That evidence — combined with court filings that repeatedly show prosecutors suspect Trump’s team willfully failed to comply with a subpoena demanding all documents marked classified — suggests the government may be building a criminal case alleging obstruction and destruction of government property, experts say .

Even as the investigation moves forward, Trump remains under legal scrutiny on multiple other fronts. Where: House select committee investigation Jan. The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol has subpoenaed testimony and documents from the former president, and the Justice Department is conducting a broad criminal investigation into how Trump and his advisers handled the post-election period.

Status of key investigation involving Donald Trump

No major public developments in the Mar-a-Lago investigation are expected until Nov. 11. 8 midterm elections — partly because of the Justice Department’s longstanding practice of avoiding doing anything that might be seen as helping one side or the other in the election, and partly because the special director is still sorting through less sensitive material seized in Florida State property. Meanwhile, Trump and his supporters have spoken openly about his launch of a 2024 presidential campaign, a move that would instantly reshape the political landscape.

“Do you know how calm it was before the storm?” said National Security Adviser Paul Rosenzweig. “There we are. It’s the calm before the storm.”

At Trump’s request, Brooklyn federal judge Raymond J. Dearie was appointed to sift through 13,000 seized documents and set aside any investigators who should be protected by attorney-client or executive privilege. The appeals court ruled that the special director’s review should not include the 103 classified documents seized during the search.

This review is ongoing. Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors have agreed to the vendor to upload more than 20,000 pages of seized unclassified material so that both parties can conduct a digital review. Trump’s team first examines the documents, flagging any they believe may be privileged. The government then reviewed the documents, and Dearie stepped in to resolve any disputes.

During Tuesday’s progress hearing, Dearie was frustrated by both parties. He accused Trump’s lawyers of claiming privilege in an initial batch of documents without providing any evidence to support their claims.

“‘Where’s the beef?’ I need some beef,” the 78-year-old judge said.

Even as Dearie continues its scrutiny, the Justice Department is still battling the appointment of a special master in court. Federal Judge Aileen M. Cannon in Florida originally ordered the appointment of a special supervisor in August to bar criminal investigators from using any seized material, including those marked classified, until a review is complete.

The Justice Department successfully appealed parts of Cannon’s ruling, giving prosecutors and FBI agents immediate access to classified material. Trump’s team filed a petition with the Supreme Court to overturn part of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, but the justices refused.

Anyone can submit court documents to the docket. The Mar-a-Lago sample proves this.

Every legal document in the case has been closely watched by journalists and the public, with Trump supporters cheering Cannon’s initial decision to name a special master, while the former president’s critics heralded Dirie’s stance on Trump Trump’s legal claims were cast in doubt.

Now, the Justice Department is appealing to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to relieve Dearie and regain access to all 13,000 seized documents.

“If the appeals court agrees with the administration, then the entire referral to the special director will end,” said Mary McCord, who served as acting assistant attorney general for national security during President Barack Obama’s administration. “It has the potential to be a very small part of the investigation.”

“National Security Issues”

At the center of any criminal case will likely be classified documents uncovered by the FBI, some of which contain extremely sensitive government secrets, including those about foreign nuclear capabilities. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that some of the seized documents contained highly restricted information about Iranian missile systems and intelligence efforts against China.

But former federal prosecutor Jim Walden said the 13,000 unclassified documents could also be critical to prosecutors because they could shed light on why and how classified material was brought to Mar-a-Lago and once they left the Isle of Wight who saw these documents. house.

Exclusive: Mar-a-Lago documents contain secrets about Iranian missiles, Chinese intelligence

The Justice Department “would not have worked so hard” to appeal the appointment of a special master without some serious national security questions remaining unanswered, Walden said. “Those ones [13,000] Documentation is very critical. “

Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department have repeatedly declined to comment on their efforts, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

Trump’s spokesman, Taylor Budowich, condemned the investigation and accused the Biden administration of weaponizing law enforcement and creating “a document hoax in a desperate attempt to retain political power.”

If his appointment stands, Deerey has until early December to complete a review of the documents and resolve any disputes over what privileges Trump can assert. But the appeals court will hear arguments from both sides next month and is expected to decide soon whether to stop the special trial.

In the meantime, the FBI may continue to seek witnesses who can provide information about the handling of Mar-a-Lago documents, including whether Trump or his representatives knowingly withheld documents from the Justice Department or falsely claimed to have handed over all classified material to limit material. remain in the field.

Legal experts say they will try to answer questions including what the former president knew about the documents and whether his possession of the materials at Mar-a-Lago could endanger national security.

House committee issues subpoena to Trump for documents, interviews

There is also the question — raised by officials at the National Archives and Records Administration — whether all government records owned by Trump after he left office have been returned to government custody as required by the Presidential Records Act, and whether certain documents may have Hidden outside of Mar-a-Lago.

“This is all the work going on behind the scenes that may never be revealed,” said Javid Ali, a senior National Security Council official during the Trump administration who now teaches at the University of Michigan. “Who might have had access to these documents? They might have collected them. What information? What might be the result of his possession of these documents?”

McCord said filing a case requires more than interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents. She suspects that at this stage of the investigation, the government is reviewing legal precedent and strategizing how prosecutors will respond to potential defense arguments in court.

For example, the Justice Department has already explained in a recent court filing that even if Trump formally claimed and provided evidence that he declassified documents he kept, it would not undermine a potential obstruction case. That’s because the subpoena required his team to return all documents “marked confidential” — not those classified.

“At this stage, there is something else going on beyond fact gathering. There is legal research,” McCord said. “All of this work can go on, it’s a lot of work. It’s not just that you go out and collect evidence and then bring charges the next day.”

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