By Jack Phillips
Constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley wrote that a newly disclosed FBI photo taken at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago could leave a “misleading impression.”
The image appears to show six documents labeled “top secret” and others dubbed “secret,” apparently captured inside Trump’s Florida residence during the FBI raid in early August. It was included toward the bottom of a government filing in response to Trump’s motion seeking a special master, or a neutral third party, to review the materials before the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“The picture could be seen by many that secret documents were strewn over the floor when this appears the method used by the FBI to isolate classified documents. It also seems entirely superfluous in releasing this one picture,” Turley wrote Wednesday.
Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, said that the DOJ’s choice to include the photo is unusual and could easily be taken out of context.
“It is curious that the DOJ would release this particular picture which suggests classified material laying around on the floor,” according to the legal scholar. “The point is to state a fact that hardly needs an optical confirmation: the possession of documents with classified cover sheets. Indeed, the top of roughly half of the documents are redacted in photo. The government could simply affirmatively state the fact of the covered pages and would not likely be challenged on that point without the inclusion of this one photo.”
Turley then suggested that the release of the photo follows a pattern of “exaggerated claims” that are being made about the case and the FBI raid and “may appear” to be “another effort (with prior leaks) to help frame the public optics and discussion.”
“Clearly the court did not need the visual aid of a picture of documents with covers. It seems clearly intended for public consumption,” said Turley, who was called by Republicans as an expert witness during the first House impeachment inquiry into Trump in late 2019.
In the latest filing, government prosecutors revealed that more than 100 unique documents that were allegedly marked classified were taken during the search.
“Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status,” prosecutors said, referring to the aforementioned photo. “The classification levels ranged from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET information, and certain documents included additional sensitive compartments that signify very limited distribution.”
Earlier in August, Trump filed a motion to request a special master, or a neutral third party, to examine the documents. DOJ lawyers, however, said that officials have already carried out a preliminary review of the materials that were taken from Trump’s home, and they said in a motion issued last week that some attorney-client privileged materials may have been taken.
Trump’s staff, the DOJ also wrote Tuesday, blocked the FBI from looking at documents in a Mar-a-Lago storage facility after classified material was turned over to them earlier this year.
“As the former President’s filing indicates, the FBI agents and DOJ attorney were permitted to visit the storage room. See D.E. 1 at 5-6. Critically, however, the former President’s counsel explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room, giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained,” prosecutors wrote.
Responding to the claims those materials were classified, Trump has said he declassified many documents while in office. At least one of his former White House aides, Kash Patel, has said he witnessed Trump issuing declassification orders.