Trump Files Lawsuit Challenging Mar-a-Lago Search by FBI

WASHINGTON—Former President

Donald Trump

filed a lawsuit Monday seeking the appointment of a special master to review the materials seized by the FBI during a search of his Mar-a-Lago home and asked a judge to order investigators to immediately stop examining the items.

Mr. Trump is also seeking a more detailed inventory of the items taken from his private club in Florida earlier this month, as well as the return of any items seized that he says weren’t within the scope of the search warrant.

The lawsuit—titled Trump v. United States Government—alleges the “decision to raid Mar-a-Lago, a mere 90 days before the 2022 midterm elections, involved political calculations aimed at diminishing the leading voice in the Republican party, President Trump.”

A special master is a third party, usually a retired judge, who reviews evidence to determine whether it is protected by attorney-client privilege, executive privilege, or similar legal doctrines.

FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home removed 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked as top secret, according to a search warrant released by a Florida court. Photo illustration: Adele Morgan

Trump’s lawyers wrote that the appointment of a special master is “the only appropriate action” and that the U.S. should be ordered “to cease review of the seized materials immediately.”

“The Aug. 8 search warrant at Mar-a-Lago was authorized by a federal court upon the required finding of probable cause,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said. “The department is aware of this evening’s motion. The United States will file its response in court.”

Investigators have set up what is known as a filter team, a separate group of agents and lawyers to review the materials and determine whether any of them are protected by such privileges before they will be provided to investigators, according to people familiar with the team. The Justice Department already contacted Mr. Trump’s legal team to return one active and two expired passports that were found in containers seized during the search, officials have said.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents removed more than two dozen boxes during the Aug. 8 search of Mr. Trump’s private club and resort, including 11 sets of classified documents, some marked top secret.

Justice Department officials have said the Mar-a-Lago search was a necessary step that Attorney General

Merrick Garland

approved after weeks of deliberation. People familiar with the Justice Department’s approach have said a primary goal of the search was to ensure the security of highly sensitive national-security documents after the Trump team didn’t relinquish them and amid concerns that the security of the material at Mar-a-Lago had been put at risk.

The search came after at least two rounds of attempts by investigators to secure documents at Mar-a-Lago through negotiations and a subpoena. After each, investigators learned that additional classified documents remained at the resort, according to people familiar with the matter.

The search, approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge

Bruce Reinhart,

set off a furious political response, with the former president’s supporters and Republican lawmakers accusing the Justice Department of overreach.

Mr. Trump and allies have said he had already declassified the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago. “ALL documents have been previously declassified,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Monday.

Many legal experts have expressed skepticism, saying any such declassification order should have been documented. The statutes cited in the warrant to justify the search don’t hinge on whether the materials were classified, so Mr. Trump faces potential criminal liability even if he had declassified the documents, the experts said.

In their court filing, Trump lawyers Lindsey Halligan, James Trusty and Evan Corcoran said the FBI had made a “shockingly aggressive move.”

The suit said one of the lawyers called a senior Justice Department national-security supervisor on Aug. 11 with a message for Mr. Garland just before he was set to speak to the press: “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 lawyer sought, among other things, the affidavit containing underlying evidence that led to the search, a detailed list of what was taken and the ability to review it, and the appointment of a special master. Justice Department official Jay Brant declined the requests, according to the lawsuit.

The FBI search at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence came after at least two rounds of attempts by investigators to secure documents through negotiations and a subpoena.



A special master was used to review evidence taken from the home and office of

Michael Cohen,

a former Trump lawyer who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and other felonies in 2018.

A special master was also appointed to review a trove of digital information the FBI seized in a 2021 search of the home and office of Trump adviser

Rudy Giuliani.

The lawsuit opens a legal battlefront that could offer glimpses into what prompted the government to search the sprawling property.

Earlier on Monday, Judge Reinhart wrote that he is inclined to make public at least part of the affidavit detailing the evidence that led to the FBI search, saying it would “promote public understanding of historically significant events.”

In a written order memorializing comments he made from the bench last week, Judge Reinhart agreed with the government that revealing too much of that document could expose witnesses and jeopardize the continuing investigation into the former president’s handling of classified information. But he rejected officials’ effort to keep the entire document—which would provide details about how the FBI established probable cause for its search—under seal and to argue that any effort to redact it placed an onerous burden on the government.

“Particularly given the intense public and historical interest in an unprecedented search of a former President’s residence, the Government has not yet shown that these administrative concerns are sufficient to justify sealing,” Judge Reinhart wrote. He gave the Justice Department until noon on Thursday to suggest portions of the document that should remain secret.

It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Trump’s lawsuit would be considered by Judge Reinhart or another federal judge in South Florida. The case was assigned to Judge

Aileen M. Cannon,

a Trump appointee, who is empowered to delegate it to Judge Reinhart.

The affidavit Judge Reinhart is considering releasing would lay out what evidence the government had collected, including that provided by any witnesses, and describe why investigators believe a crime may have been committed.

Several advocacy groups and news-media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, petitioned the court to make the document public. Mr. Trump and his allies, including some in Congress, have also called for it to be made public.

Write to Sadie Gurman at

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