Mar-a-Lago documents inadvertently published online — and undercut Trump’s privilege claims

A judge ordered the documents sealed but they were accidentally released publicly instead

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published October 5, 2022 1:45PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center on July 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center on July 23, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Justice Department's detailed lists of seized materials from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence were inadvertently published online on Tuesday.

A judge ordered that the logs stay under seal, but they appeared to be inadvertently posted to the public court docket, according to Bloomberg, which first reported on the documents. The filing, which is no longer publicly visible, included a combination of government, business and personal documents. Some of these records included analysis of who should get a pardon, retainer agreements for lawyers and accountants as well as legal bills.

A "Privilege Review Team" followed specific "search procedures and filter protocols while executing the warrant" to search Mar-a-Lago and divided potentially privileged material into two categories, according to the filing. The filter team found 520 pages that needed a closer look but later determined few of those documents fell under any legal privileges.

The first set of 137 documents included government records, public documents and communications with outside parties. A 39-page document, in which a "majority of pages are titled 'The President's Calls' and include the Presidential Seal" contain handwritten names, numbers and notes that appear to be messages and notes.  

The other list included documents that the team identified should be returned to Trump, including a "medical letter" from a doctor, legal complaints and information about legal fees to lawyers. 

The former president has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of the search of his Florida home, describing it as an "unwarranted, unjust, and illegal Raid and Break-In." On Tuesday, Trump's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the fight over records and ensure that the more than 100 documents marked as classified are part of the special master's review.

"The Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review the Special Master Order, which authorized the review of all materials seized from President Trump's residence, including documents bearing classification markings," the application said

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This would allow Trump to pursue claims that the documents with restrictive classifications like "Top Secret" should not be reviewed by Justice Department investigators since they are subject to executive privilege. Trump has also dubiously claimed that he declassified them before leaving office. 

The Justice Department's Aug. 30 report identified how the privilege review team divided documents covered by attorney-client privilege into a different batch that would remain separate from Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents managing the criminal probe. 

More than 300 pages were flagged to be returned to the former president, including IRS forms and other tax-related documents, a letter from Trump campaign legal advisor, an insurance benefits letter, a confidential settlement agreement between PGA and Trump Golf, a civil complaint and a nondisclosure agreement and contract agreement regarding Trump's Save America political action committee.

Federal Judge Raymond Dearie will be conducting the review of the 520 pages of documents since the Justice Department was unable to convince a judge in Florida that their filter process didn't need an outside special master to review the documents.

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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