(Bloomberg) -- A newly unsealed Justice Department report details the range of documents that federal investigators found during the August search of former President Donald Trump’s Florida home and the steps they took to identify documents the government shouldn’t access.
Government lawyers concluded that most of about 520 pages they initially flagged as potential attorney-client communications or other legal work did not appear to be covered by those privileges, according to an Aug. 30 report unsealed by a judge Monday.
More than 300 pages were identified as “legal in nature” -- including settlements, nondisclosure agreements, and retainers -- or otherwise “sensitive” and should be returned to Trump, the government said.
The report was a status update from Justice Department “filter team” of attorneys searching through the roughly 11,000 documents -- totaling 200,000 pages, according to Trump’s lawyers -- seized from the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort. A federal judge has since granted Trump’s request to put an outside “special master” in charge of reviewing the materials for protected attorney-client communications and the executive privilege afforded presidents, over government objections that they already did that work.
US District Judge Raymond Dearie was named as special master and Trump’s legal team and Justice Department lawyers are in the process of trying to agree on the characterization of the documents.
Before executing the search warrant on Aug. 8, government investigators gave the so-called filter team a list 35 lawyers to look for, including Evan Corcoran. Cocoran represented Trump in his dealings with the Justice Department leading up to the search and has continued to serve on his legal team.
The filter team was instructed to set aside an entire box of materials as “potentially privileged” if any individual documents inside could possibly qualify, lawyers wrote in the filing unsealed Monday. The special team did an initial search of the basement storage room where documents were kept as well as Trump’s office.
The team “took a broad view” of what could be considered privileged information, including materials that simply referred to a lawyer or that appeared to be “any legal document.” In one footnote, the government recounted how the flagged a printed email between the US Air Force Academy’s baseball coach and the White House because the “Pat C” written on the back might have referred to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone.
The sealed boxes under review were kept in a “secure room” in the FBI Washington office that the main investigators couldn’t access, according to the report. There were six boxes at first, and a seventh was added after a member of the case team found a document with a law firm letterhead “comingled with newspapers.”
The filter team reviewed contents of those boxes and divided those documents into two categories. One set consisted of 138 pages mostly including “government records, public documents, and communications to or from third parties” that likely wouldn’t fall under the legal work privileges.
Even some “closer calls” didn’t appear “related to legal advice,” including communications to a White House email account and a message from “Rudy,” who is described as “a possible attorney.” The report doesn’t specify if that was a reference to Rudy Giuliani, a longtime Trump ally who has sometimes served as legal counsel.
The second set of 383 pages featured items that the filter team believed should be returned to Trump because they didn’t appear to be government records and were either “legal in nature” or “otherwise potentially sensitive.” Even the legal-related documents largely wouldn’t be considered privileged, though, the government’s lawyer wrote.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department and Trump’s legal team on Monday submitted a log to Dearie noting any disputes over how to designate documents that the filter team set aside. That log was filed under seal.
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