In extraordinary move, Trump lawyers ask Congress to intervene in classified documents controversy
Legal team says DOJ has misled courts and public about reasons classified documents ended up at Mar-a-Lago, and legislation needed to fix lax security system.
In an extraordinary move, Donald Trump's lawyers on Wednesday asked Congress to intervene in the dispute over classified documents, alleging the Justice Department has misled the courts and the public about how sensitive memos ended up at the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate.
The legal team led by attorney Timothy Parlatore sent a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner and the Gang of Eight congressional leadership declaring the unprecedented FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago last August was unnecessary and shielded Congress from being alerted to a lax National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) security system that boxed up classified documents with mementos and shipped them to the Florida compound without regard to protecting national secrets.
"The solution to these issues is not a misguided, politically infected, and severely botched criminal investigation, but rather a legislative solution," Parlatore and his colleagues wrote Turner. "DOJ should be ordered to stand down, and the intelligence community should instead conduct an appropriate investigation and provide a full report to this Committee, as well as your counterparts in the Senate."
You can read the full letter here:
The letter was accompanied by a detailed accounting of what was found in the 15 boxes of materials seized from Mar-a-Lago and returned to the Archives. The lawyers argued Trump had no intention of taking the boxes to his Florida home, but employees from the General Services Administration packed them up without determining whether classified materials were included.
"Our review of the boxes at NARA shows that White House institutional practices for the handling of classified materials — including declassification procedures — are inconsistent with how the intelligence community and military handles classified materials," the lawyers wrote. "This is indicative of the staff's packing processes and not any criminal intent by President Trump."
Parlatore's letter said the contents of the boxes provided prima facie proof that storage of classified documents at the White House and their transmission to Florida were haphazard. The boxes were basically chronological catalogues of Trump's various weeks in office, where newspaper clips, the president's daily musings and national security documents were stored together without regard for their sensitivity.
"The boxes contain all manner of documents from the White House, are loosely grouped by date, and include newspapers, magazines, notes, letters, and daily schedules," according to the letter. "Following its review of the materials, NARA inserted placeholder pages where it had removed documents with classification markings."
The Trump lawyers' review found the "vast majority of the placeholder inserts refer to briefings for phone calls with foreign leaders that were located near the schedule for those calls," the letter explains. "This organization of materials (i.e., schedule of calls for the day, insert page for briefing sheet to prepare for the call, newspapers from the same day) indicates that the White House staff simply swept all documents from the President's desk and other areas into boxes, where they have resided ever since."
The letter levels some of the Trump camp's harshest criticism of federal prosecutors, now led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, and NARA, suggesting they have tried to orchestrate a scandal and prosecution that would hide the failures of federal bureaucracy in allowing classified materials to land not only in Trump's home but also Joe Biden's home and office and even Jimmy Carter's facilities.
"Deficient document handling and storage procedures are not limited to any individual, administration, or political party," the lawyers wrote. "A legislative solution by Congress is required to prevent the DOJ from continuing to conduct ham-handed criminal investigations of matters that are inherently not criminal."
Because Trump contested the 2020 elections results, his pack-up was done more quickly than prior presidents, but his legal team sought to shift much of the blame to NARA, alleging the nation's historical records repository treated the 45th president differently than other past chief executives.
"Whether NARA's departure from routine pack-out procedures for President Trump was intentional or a product of the compressed timeline, it did not take custody of the documents and this made necessary the transfer of boxes of documents to President Trump's heavily secured home at Mar-a-Lago," the lawyers argued. "To be clear, had NARA offered President Trump the same assistance that it had provided to all previous Presidents, he would have accepted the offer and there would have been no reason to transfer the documents to Mar-a-Lago."
The lawyers accused DOJ of misleading the courts and taking an aggressive posture even though Trump offered to let FBI agents search for records themselves without a raid.
"From the inception of this matter, rather than working cooperatively to ensure the return of all marked documents and correct any procedural failures, the DOJ team chose a path of aggressive combativeness," the lawyers wrote. "In doing so, it compromised the evidence, constitutional rights, and, in many instances, the professional ethics of its prosecutors."
The Justice Department "utterly failed to make an accurate presentation to the Magistrate Judge, thereby violating President Trump's constitutional rights against an unreasonable search and seizure," the lawyers allege. "DOJ likely concealed from the Judge that President Trump had offered his cooperation or that the DOJ team could have pursued a consensual search, as President Trump had essentially invited them to do."
Parlatore wrote that either the House Intelligence Committee or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence should have been directed to investigate the handling of the classified documents, rather than the DOJ conducting a criminal investigation.
Parlatore asked Congress to "make legislative changes to:
- Correct classified document handling procedures in the White House;
- Standardize document handling and storage procedures for Presidents and Vice Presidents when they leave office; and
- Formalize procedures for investigations into the mishandling or spillage of classified material, to prevent future situations where DOJ is inappropriately assigned to conduct an investigation."
The DOJ and NARA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.