Former President Donald Trump in a new lawsuit Monday asking that a federal judge appoint a special watchdog to review documents seized from his Florida home as part of a criminal investigation of the removal of White House records when he left office in January 2021.
Trump’s lawsuit, which suggests the Aug. 8 FBI raid was politically motivated, also asks that the Department of Justice be blocked from “further review of seized materials” from his Mar-a-Lago residence until the so-called special master is appointed to review the documents.
Special masters are appointed in criminal cases when there is a concern that some material seized by authorities should not be viewed by investigators because it is protected by attorney-client privilege or other factors that weigh against it being used in a prosecution.
Special masters were appointed to review materials seized in federal criminal probes of two of Trump’s former personal attorneys, Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani.
Trump’s suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida accuses the federal government of violating his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures with the raid, which is believed to be the first time the home of a former president was searched in connection with a criminal case.
In addition to seeking a special master, the suit asks that the DOJ be required to provide him with a more detailed inventory of property seized at the Palm Beach resort.
And it requests that the government return any seized item that was not within the scope of the search warrant authorizing the raid.
This Mar-a-Lago Break-In, Search, and Seizure was illegal and unconstitutional,” Trump said in a written statement released after the complaint was filed.
“And we are taking all actions necessary to get the documents back, which we would have given to them without the necessity of the despicable raid of my home, so that I can give them to the National Archives until they are required for the future Donald J. Trump Presidential Library and Museum,” he added.
DOJ spokesman Anthony Coley, in a statement on Trump’s action, said, “The Aug. 8 search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause. The Department is aware of this evening’s motion. The United States will file its response in court.”
The lawsuit comes as a federal magistrate judge in that same court is considering arguments by media organizations to unseal the FBI affidavit that substantiated the need for a search warrant.
That warrant indicated that authorities are investigating potential violations of laws related to espionage and obstruction of justice. Multiple sets of documents marked top secret were seized in the raid, according to court documents.
The DOJ is scheduled by Thursday to file suggestions for redacting portions of the warrant.
Trump’s lawsuit called the raid “a shockingly aggressive move” by about two dozen FBI agents, which was done “with no understanding of the distress that it would cause most Americans.”
“Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans. It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes,” says the complaint. “Therefore, we seek judicial assistance in the aftermath of an unprecedented and unnecessary raid on President Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago.”
The suit says that Trump “is the clear frontrunner” in both the 2024 Republican presidential primary and general election, “should he decide to run.”
“Politics cannot be allowed to impact the administration of justice,” the suit says.
It also says that the government told Trump’s counsel that “privileged and/or potentially privileged documents” were among the items seized.
But the government to date has “refused to provide any information regarding the nature of these documents,” the complaint says.
The suit argues that there was no reason for the FBI to raid Trump’s home because he was cooperating with the authorities who were looking to retrieve the records from the residence.
After 15 boxes of records were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, Trump’s lawyers communicated with authorities from the White House, National Archives and Justice Department regarding documents that were allegedly “protected by executive privilege,” the suit says.
In May, according to the complaint, Trump “voluntarily” accepted a grand jury subpoena for his office’s record-keeper, seeking documents with classified markings.
Trump decided to conduct a search for responsive records, and he then “invited the FBI to come to Mar-a-Lago” to retrieve them, the complaint said.
On June 3, top DOJ counterintelligence official Jay Bratt came to Mar-a-Lago with three other agents, and Trump “greeted them in the dining room,” the suit said.
Trump then left the agents with Trump’s record-keeper and counsel, adding, “Whatever you need, just let us know,” according to the complaint.
“Once back in the dining room, one of the FBI agents said, ‘Thank you. You did not need to show us the storage room, but we appreciate it. Now it all makes sense,’ ” according to the suit.
“Counsel for President Trump then closed the interaction and advised the Government officials that they should contact him with any further needs on the matter.”
In that storage room were “boxes, many containing the clothing and personal items of President Trump and the First Lady,” the lawsuit said.
On June 8, Bratt asked Trump’s counsel to secure that storage room, and Trump accordingly “directed his staff to place a second lock on the door,” according to the complaint.
In a phone call three days after the raid, the suit says, Trump’s counsel delivered a message to Bratt: “President Trump wants the Attorney General to know that he has been hearing from people all over the country about the raid If there was one word to describe their mood, it is ‘angry.’ The heat is building up. The pressure is building up. Whatever I can do to take the heat down, to bring the pressure down, just let me know.”