Perfect Specimen: Government Records about the Mazars Lawsuit and Trump’s COVID Treatment Would Be Government Records

In her opinion appointing a Special Master in the Trump stolen document case, Judge Aileen Cannon yoked a description of still-sealed information that appears in the privilege review status report to two unrelated mentions about personal effects.

The second factor—whether the movant has an individual interest in and need for the seized property—weighs in favor of entertaining Plaintiff’s requests. According to the Privilege Review Team’s Report, the seized materials include medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information [ECF No. 40-2; see also ECF No. 48 p. 18 (conceding that Plaintiff “may have a property interest in his personal effects”)]. The Government also has acknowledged that it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value” and, by its own estimation, upwards of 500 pages of material potentially subject to attorney-client privilege [ECF No. 48 p. 16; ECF No. 40 p. 2]. [my emphasis]

As I laid out here, this passage was shamelessly dishonest. That’s because she treated a subjunctive description of what the government would do if they found “personal effects without evidentiary value” as a concession that they had found such personal effects (in the government’s response she was mangling, they explained why the passports they had already returned to Trump did have evidentiary value). And she double counted materials: she treated the 520 pages of potentially privileged material as a separate item from the references to “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information,” even though those medical and tax documents were in the potentially privileged bucket.

Nowhere in this otherwise dishonest passage, though, did Aileen Cannon claim that the, “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information” were Trump’s own personal documents.

Even Trump, when he tweeted about this, stopped short of claiming these were all documents he owned (though he did claim they had taken “personal Tax Records”).



Nevertheless Cannon’s dishonest reference, yoked as it is to two unrelated references to personal effects, has led people to believe that the medical and tax records on which Cannon based her entire decision to butt into this matter are the personal possessions of Donald Trump.

There is no evidence that’s the case, and lots of reason to believe it’s not.

That’s true, first of all, because unlike the description of the contents of boxes sent to NARA in January (which were described to include “personal records [and] post-presidential records,” the detailed inventory of boxes taken on August 8 doesn’t include such a description.

To be sure: The FBI did seize personal documents. The government’s motion for a stay — written by people who have not seen the materials that Cannon describes as medical and tax records — acknowledges personal records.

Among other things, the government’s upcoming filing will confirm that it plans to make available to Plaintiff copies of all unclassified documents recovered during the search—both personal records and government records—and that the government will return Plaintiff’s personal items that were not commingled with classified records and thus are of likely diminished evidentiary value.

There are personal records: for example, the FBI seized 1,673 press clippings, with a bunch — dated 1995, 2008, 2015, and 2016 — pre-dating Trump’s Presidency, though five of the boxes with some clippings that pre-date Trump’s presidency include documents marked as classified, including one box (A-15) with 32 Secret and Confidential documents, and another (A-14) with a Top Secret document. But when it discusses returning things, it discusses “items.” Those personal items likely include the 19 pieces of clothing or gifts on the inventory (though some of the gifts, if they’re from foreign entities, belong to the US). They also likely include the 33 books that were seized, with 23 seized in one box that contained no documents marked as classified.

The government may be generously agreeing to return a carton of Donny Jr’s shitty books!

And there will be Trump notes. Some of the notes likely will count as personal records under the Presidential Records Act, which include:

A) diaries, journals, or other personal notes serving as the functional equivalent of a diary or journal which are not prepared or utilized for, or circulated or communicated in the course of, transacting Government business;

(B) materials relating to private political associations, and having no relation to or direct effect upon the carrying out of constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President; and

(C) materials relating exclusively to the President’s own election to the office of the Presidency; and materials directly relating to the election of a particular individual or individuals to Federal, State, or local office, which have no relation to or direct effect upon the carrying out of constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.

But some will be presidential records (those may be some of the most interesting fights going forward and it’s the logic Tom Fitton used to push Trump to challenge the seizure of his records). Some of the notes will also be shown to include information otherwise treated as classified.

But the medical and tax records cannot be included among the items referred to here, because Jay Bratt, who wrote the government motion, has not seen the records that include medical and tax records, because they are in the potentially privileged bucket. And among those materials, there’s likely to be fewer such personal records (aside from clippings).

Here are the six inventory items that, based on this Fox report and reading the two inventories together, were initially treated as potentially privileged (two sets of documents have since been added).

Of those, Item 4 on the inventory, described only as “documents” and elsewhere sourced to desk(s) in Trump’s office, makes up over half the records seized in the potentially privileged bucket (leaving aside clippings). It primarily consists of 357 government documents without classification marks.

Notwithstanding that this set of documents originally included Trump’s passports (which are legally government documents), it makes sense that even if there were other boxes that included the stray personal correspondence, this one did not. That’s because these were items taken out of Trump’s desk, not a box taken with all its contents. This set of documents, of which just a fraction could have since been deemed potentially privileged (because there are only 64 sets of potentially privileged documents), is also the set on which the privilege team would have focused most attention on the day of the search.

The privilege team was there, in Trump’s office, to weed out really obviously sensitive documents.

Plus, there are ready explanations for what kinds of government documents might include, “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information.”

First, as President, Trump had a White House physician. White House physician Ronny Jackson’s records of his ties to Trump would amount to government records. Even the paperwork behind this famously batshit press conference would be government records — and it might explain why Trump proclaimed (in his Tweet) that these records would prove he was a “Perfect Specimen.”



But there are other medical records that Trump might be more likely to stash in his desk drawer, which might also involve lawyers: his COVID diagnosis (and the reckless decision to attend a presidential debate, exposing Joe Biden to the disease), any assumption of Presidential duties by Mike Pence, the infection of numerous people with COVID at the Amy Coney Barrett roll-out, the Secret Service fly-by when Trump returned to the White House, and the decision to seek FDA approval for his access to Regeneron. The records relating to Trump’s bout with COVID by itself could fill a box. And they’re the kind of records that he would — indeed, already has — fought hard to keep from public dissemination.

Similarly, there are known documents that generated reams of government records pertaining to, “correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information.” Two involve the various efforts to obtain Trump’s tax returns from his accounting firm, Mazars, and extended efforts to investigate Trump Organization’s violation of the emoluments clause with Trump International Hotel.

This OLC memo ruling that the Treasury Department should blow off the House Ways and Means Committee request for Trump’s tax returns relates to taxes. This DOJ amicus brief weighing in on the same fight is a government document about taxes and accounting information. All correspondence generating the documents, too, would relate to taxes and accounting information. All would be government documents. Lawyers would have been involved in all parts of the process. All are the kinds of records Trump might stash in his desk drawer and refuse to turn over.

Similarly, this IG Report describes how the General Services Administration ignored how the Emoluments Clause should impact concerns about management of the Old Post Office. The Report itself references both lease (that is, accounting) information and redacted discussions among GSA and other lawyers. It discusses inadequate efforts after the inauguration to shield Trump from management of the hotel, including several discussions of lawyers for Trump Org and his spawn. It’s a government document. It — and all the legal correspondence and lease information it references — would become government documents. It’s another example of the kind of thing that would be a government record addressing accounting records that nevertheless might trigger privilege concerns.

I’m not saying these are the records at issue. I’m saying there’s a long list of known squabbles that would 1) consist of government records 2) involve tons of lawyering 3) would be the kind of thing Trump would want to hoard, and 4) would fit the low standard of potentially privileged as described by the filter lawyers.

There’s one more reason — besides her false treatment of a subjunctive consideration as a concession and her double counting — to suspect that Cannon created a deliberate misunderstanding that these were documents belonging to the former President: The emphasis with which filter attorney Anthony Lacosta focus on her unilateral treatment of still-sealed information in their motion to unseal their status report. The motion describes two ways in which details from the still-sealed filter team report were made public: First, after asking permission to do so and getting the assent of Trump lawyer Jim Trusty, filter attorney Benjamin Hawk described the filter process. Then, without unsealing the report, Cannon’s several references to the still-sealed report in her own opinion. With two of those references (page 15 and footnote 13 on the same page), Cannon described investigative agents finding something that might be privileged and turning it over immediately to the filter team.

To begin, the Government’s argument assumes that the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening for potentially privileged material was sufficient, yet there is evidence from which to call that premise into question here. See In re Sealed Search Warrant & Application for a Warrant by Tel. or Other Reliable Elec. Means, 11 F.4th at 1249–51; see also Abbell, 914 F. Supp. at 520 (appointing a special master even after the government’s taint attorney already had reviewed the seized material). As reflected in the Privilege Review Team’s Report, the Investigative Team already has been exposed to potentially privileged material. Without delving into specifics, the Privilege Review Team’s Report references at least two instances in which members of the Investigative Team were exposed to material that was then delivered to the Privilege Review Team and, following another review, designated as potentially privileged material [ECF No. 40 p. 6]. Those instances alone, even if entirely inadvertent, yield questions about the adequacy of the filter review process.13

13 In explaining these incidents at the hearing, counsel from the Privilege Review Team characterized them as examples of the filter process working. The Court is not so sure. These instances certainly are demonstrative of integrity on the part of the Investigative Team members who returned the potentially privileged material. But they also indicate that, on more than one occasion, the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening failed to identify potentially privileged material. The Government’s other explanation—that these instances were the result of adopting an over-inclusive view of potentially privileged material out of an abundance of caution—does not satisfy the Court either. Even accepting the Government’s untested premise, the use of a broad standard for potentially privileged material does not explain how qualifying material ended up in the hands of the Investigative Team. Perhaps most concerning, the Filter Review Team’s Report does not indicate that any steps were taken after these instances of exposure to wall off the two tainted members of the Investigation Team [see ECF No. 40]. In sum, without drawing inferences, there is a basis on this record to question how materials passed through the screening process, further underscoring the importance of procedural safeguards and an additional layer of review. See, e.g., In re Grand Jury Subpoenas, 454 F.3d 511, 523 (6th Cir. 2006) (“In United States v. Noriega, 764 F. Supp. 1480 (S.D. Fla. 1991), for instance, the government’s taint team missed a document obviously protected by attorney-client privilege, by turning over tapes of attorney-client conversations to members of the investigating team. This Noriega incident points to an obvious flaw in the taint team procedure: the government’s fox is left in charge of the appellants’ henhouse, and may err by neglect or malice, as well as by honest differences of opinion.”).

As Hawk explained (and she ignored) in the hearing, one of these instances involved nothing more than seeing the name of a law firm. The second he struggled to explain, but it was clear he really doesn’t think it’s privileged.

In the second instance, Your Honor, again, I think this is being personally over inclusive in an abundance of caution recognizing the circumstances that we find ourselves in, the second instance was again an item generally speaking — Your Honor, if you can give me a moment just to think on how to frame this.

The second instance was an item where a case team attorney saw that there might be — saw that there might be — saw that there were — bottom line is, Your Honor, I do not believe this information is privileged, but I still want to be respectful, and I want respect the process and Counsel’s opportunity to assert, but it was an instance where, I believe in my view, the case team attorney was exercising extreme caution in identifying a document that could potentially include privileged information and so, exercising that caution, gave it to the case team — or gave it to privilege review team to review, and that Your Honor, as counsel —

And while Hawk doesn’t directly address it, another place where Aileen Cannon unilaterally used information from the privilege review team report is in her claim that there were medical and tax records in the seized materials (see the bolded attribution, above).

Lacosta points to Judge Cannon’s asymmetrical reliance on this information in his motion to unseal the report.

Here, there is no compelling interest in maintaining the sealed status of the Filter Notice in this case, particularly in light of the Court’s reference to it in the Court’s Order appointing a special master. (DE:64 at 6, 15, & n.13.) Moreover, the United States has an interest in the Filter Notice being a part of the public record in this case and thereby equally available to all of the litigants in this matter.

This is a very subtle way of saying that for Bratt to litigate this issue, he needs to have the same information that both Trusty and Cannon are exploiting in their arguments. And, frankly, the public does too, because Cannon is quite clearly flipping normal investigative procedure on its head (again), granting the former President privileges that no criminal suspect in the United States gets.

Judge Cannon has, explicitly, turned the diligence of the investigative team into proof of harm. And because she has engaged in that kind of dishonesty, and because her reference to medical and tax records not only doesn’t deny these are government records, but also accompanies two other dishonest claims (the double counting and the treatment of a subjunctive statement as a concession), we should be very wary to read this claim as anything other than the public record suggests: that these are government records that involve some legal dispute.

Trump chose to use the levers of government to gain financial advantage and because of that there are years and years of government documents that involve legal disputes about his own personal and corporate finances. It should not surprise anyone that some of those materials were in boxes at Mar-a-Lago or stashed in his desk drawer. They are among the secrets he has most jealously guarded.

And unless and until Judge Cannon unseals that report about which she and Trump made asymmetric claims, we should not assume good faith on her part.

Update: Given Peterr’s question about my comment about notes, I elaborated on what I meant and the standard for personal notes under the Presidential Records Act.

A Likely Looming Battle in the Stolen Document Case: Classified White House Counsel Documents

In this post, I argued that DOJ hopes to use a motion to stay Judge Aileen Cannon’s injunction against using materials seized from Donald Trump in any criminal investigation tactically — basically, to highlight she’s just stalling the investigation.

But I want to flag something that I think will be contentious going forward: Classified documents involving White House Counsel.

In its description of why all classified documents should be exempted from Judge Cannon’s injunction, DOJ noted that classified records cannot belong to Trump, and so he has no basis to make a Rule 41(g) motion. But their explanation of why such records would be excluded from any attorney-client privilege determination is more telling. It only extends to Trump’s personal lawyers.

But that rationale is categorically inapplicable to the classified records at issue in this motion, which are easily identifiable by their markings, are already segregated from the other seized records, and do not include personal records or potentially privileged communications with his personal attorneys.


The classification markings establish on the face of the documents that they are government records, not Plaintiff’s personal records. The government’s review of those records does not raise any plausible attorney-client privilege claims because such classified records do not contain communications between Plaintiff and his private attorneys. [my emphasis]

DOJ is right that any classified documents obviously belong to the government.

But Trump’s lawyers don’t even want to cede that point. They refused the motion for a stay with respect to classified documents (which is not surprising, because in the hearing Jim Trusty said they could just make copies of all the classified records).

Counsel for the United States has conferred with counsel for Plaintiff, and Plaintiff opposes the government’s motion.

But there are known government documents in which the White House Counsel were involved that are likely among the ones Trump would most like to withhold: starting with discussions about materials (including a mention of Burisma) excised by the White House Counsel’s office from the transcript of the call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The particular language used here — specifying that attorney-client privilege only extends to stuff involving Trump’s “personal” or “private” attorneys — suggests there are materials at issue involving Trump’s non-private attorneys, which could be DOJ but is most likely the White House Counsel.

As I have noted, there are three known classified documents that were put in the potentially privileged bucket, at least at the start.

There’s one document marked Confidential and another marked Secret seized from drawer(s) in Trump’s office.

And there’s a Top Secret document stashed along with clippings dating back to 1995 in box 29.

Plus, the packet involving clemency for Roger Stone — while it was not treated as potentially privileged — does include information marked as Secret.

If that involved communications with DOJ or the White House Counsel, I could see Trump trying to claw it back as well.

DOJ says that none of these involve Trump’s personal lawyers. But they’re not ruling out that they involve lawyers you and I paid for, the White House Counsel. And those documents are among the ones I can imagine Trump might care the most about.

The Tactics of DOJ’s Request for a Partial Stay of Judge Cannon’s Order

I was out when DOJ submitted a series of documents in Trump’s demand for a Special Master. As I’m sure you’ve heard, the government has informed Judge Cannon they will appeal at least some of her decision, but at this point are asking only for a partial stay of her injunction against using the seized classified records for further criminal investigation.

I take this to be a tactical effort, one designed to make Cannon and Trump’s position less tenable going forward, without any guarantee that Cannon will accede to this request (and I think the request faces even odds at best).

DOJ submitted the following documents.

In this post, I’ll attempt to explain why, while the motion for a partial stay may not work, it likely will improve DOJ’s tactical position going forward. There are other parts of this that, I think, are tactical as well. But the main point seems to be to force her to heighten her already egregious stance before DOJ is forced to appeal this.

As I said above, I think DOJ intends the motion for a partial stay to be tactical. I think there’s at least an even chance that Judge Cannon will reject it. If she does, DOJ has told her they will appeal a week from today. As I understand it, that will be a motion for a stay which is separate from the appeal of her ruling more generally, but the 11th Circuit would see the substance of it first. And however batshit the 11th Circuit and SCOTUS judges were who might review it, its substance would be something really modest: That the Executive Branch owns the country’s secrets and needs to protect them.

Plus, SCOTUS has already — in Trump v. Thompson — upheld Executive Privilege assertions less modest than the substance of the stay pending appeal. DOJ might not succeed at the 11th, but they have a good chance of succeeding at SCOTUS, and doing so on accelerated timeframe (in significant part because they are making a credible claim of urgent injury). They’ve narrowed the issue to one they need to reach to be able to investigate stolen classified documents.

The only principle DOJ is asserting in this motion for a stay is that the Executive Branch owns classified information. As I laid out here, Cannon based her decision to butt in on a (largely specious) claim that Trump had personal items included in the seized records. By asking only for a stay for all classified records, the government narrows its Richey argument, noting that Trump cannot own any documents marked as classified.

The second and third factors likewise counsel against exercising equitable jurisdiction with respect to the classified records. Those factors apply only to “the material whose return [the plaintiff] seeks” and to injury resulting from “denial of the return of his property.” Richey, 515 F.2d at 1243. Plaintiff, however, has no right to the “return” of classified records, which are not “his” property. Id. Classified records also are not “personal” to Plaintiff and would not reveal any sensitive personal information. D.E. 64 at 9, 21. Accordingly, Plaintiff has no cognizable “individual” interest in any classified records (or in having a special master review those records), and he cannot be “irreparably injured” if such records are not returned to him. Richey, 515 F.2d at 1243. The Court’s determination that the second and third Richey factors favored the exercise of equitable jurisdiction relied on its finding that Plaintiff had an interest in “at least a portion” of the seized records, including “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes,” “accounting information,” and “material potentially subject to attorney-client privilege,” and that identification of such materials “cannot reasonably be determined at this time.” D.E. 64 at 9.2 But that rationale is categorically inapplicable to the classified records at issue in this motion, which are easily identifiable by their markings, are already segregated from the other seized records, and do not include personal records or potentially privileged communications with his personal attorneys.

Cannon may still not budge! But if she doesn’t, it’ll make the outrageousness of her decision all the more evident, and indefensible.

But even this modest request will cause Trump — and therefore Judge Cannon — a good deal of concern.

Trump has already opposed this motion. (Zoe Tillman emphasized this on Twitter.)

Counsel for the United States has conferred with counsel for Plaintiff, and Plaintiff opposes the government’s motion.

Most notably, it does not concede the import of timely criminal investigation. Without addressing Cannon’s claims to the contrary, the government argued that the single possible injury Trump might face with the sharing of classified records he doesn’t own is in the continuation of the investigation itself.

Plaintiff’s only possible “injury” relates to the government’s investigation itself, but that injury is not legally cognizable. As the Supreme Court has made clear, “the cost, anxiety, and inconvenience of having to defend against” potential criminal prosecution cannot “by themselves be considered ‘irreparable’ in the special legal sense of that term.” Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 46 (1971); cf. Cobbledick, 309 U.S. at 325 (“Bearing the discomfiture and cost of a prosecution for crime even by an innocent person is one of the painful obligations of citizenship.”). That is why courts have exercised great caution before interfering through civil actions with criminal investigations or pending cases. See also Deaver v. Seymour, 822 F.2d 66, 69-71 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (applying Younger’s principles with regard to potential federal charges); Ramsden v. United States, 2 F.3d 322, 326 (9th Cir. 1993) (“The mere threat of prosecution is not sufficient to constitute irreparable harm.”). And those fundamental principles strongly support the limited stay the government seeks here.

It noted that it cannot investigate 18 USC 793 (or obstruction of an investigation into that crime) without the classified documents in question.

This case does not involve a pending trial, but the need for the classified records is even more clearly demonstrated and specific here: The government is investigating potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 793(e), which prohibits unauthorized retention of national defense information. The classified records are not merely relevant evidence; they are the very objects of the relevant criminal statute. Similarly, the government is investigating the adequacy of the response to a grand jury subpoena for all documents in Plaintiff’s possession “bearing classification markings.” D.E. 48 Attachment C. Again, the seized classified records at issue here—each of which the subpoena plainly encompassed—are central to that investigation.

It also talked about FBI’s central role in investigating those 90 empty folders for classified or staff secretary information.

The same is true of the empty folders with “‘classified’ banners” that were among the seized materials here, see D.E. 39-1: The FBI would be chiefly responsible for investigating what materials may have once been stored in these folders and whether they may have been lost or compromised—steps that, again, may require the use of grand jury subpoenas, search warrants, and other criminal investigative tools and could lead to evidence that would also be highly relevant to advancing the criminal investigation.

The government also pointed out the illogic of Cannon’s concession that the Executive has urgent need to conduct its damage review, while unilaterally deciding that they cannot conduct a criminal investigation.

The Court appeared to recognize that a sufficient showing of need can overcome potential assertions of executive privilege by specifying that the government may continue to review and use the classified records in its classification review and national security risk assessment. D.E. 64 at 22-24. That aspect of the order reflects an implicit determination that no potential assertion of executive privilege by Plaintiff could justify preventing the Executive Branch from conducting that review and assessment of the classified records. But under United States v. Nixon, the same is true of the review and use of the information by the government in an ongoing criminal investigation. And it would be especially unwarranted to prohibit that review and use while authorizing other personnel in the Executive Branch to review and use the same information:

All these things are likely to cause her heartburn — and Trump even more! In her opinion last week, Cannon at first denied she was minimizing the import of an ongoing criminal investigation — but then dismissed precedent on the problems with doing that.

None of this should be read to minimize the importance of investigating criminal activity or to indicate anything about the merits of any future court proceeding.


The Court is mindful that restraints on criminal prosecutions are disfavored21 but finds that these unprecedented circumstances call for a brief pause to allow for neutral, third-party review to ensure a just process with adequate safeguards.

21 See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43–44 (1971) (“[C]ourts of equity should not . . . act to restrain a criminal prosecution[] when the moving party has an adequate remedy at law and will not suffer irreparable injury if denied equitable relief.”); Stefanelli v. Minard, 342 U.S. 117, 120 (1951) (explaining that “[t]he maxim that equity will not enjoin a criminal prosecution” applies with greatest force in the context of the federal government interfering with state prosecutions).

If she refuses to let DOJ continue its investigation, which I think is quite possible, it’ll make her intent in objecting — halting any criminal investigation, into Trump or anyone else — all the more clear.

And this motion affirms that the investigation will continue regardless of what Cannon decides (though establishes how much her order is impeding it).

For example, the government does not understand the Court’s injunction against the government’s review and use of seized materials for criminal investigative purposes to prevent it from questioning witnesses and obtaining evidence about issues such as how classified records in general were moved from the White House, how they were subsequently stored, and what steps Plaintiff and his representatives took in response to the May 11, 2022 grand jury subpoena. The government also does not understand the Order to bar it from asking witnesses about any recollections they may have of classified records, so long as the government does not use the content of seized classified records to question witnesses (which the Order appears to prohibit).5 Even so, the prohibition on the review and use of the classified records is uniquely harmful here, where the criminal investigation concerns the retention and handling of those very records, with the concomitant national-security concerns raised by that conduct.

She’s on notice now that she has not succeeded in killing the investigation. She may take further steps to do so, but those, too, would be all the more outrageous if she did.

Finally, and perhaps most effectively, DOJ implies they intend to brief Congress on what Trump stole.

The government also does not understand the Court’s Order to bar DOJ, FBI, and ODNI from briefing Congressional leaders with intelligence oversight responsibilities regarding the classified records that were recovered. The government similarly does not understand the Order to restrict senior DOJ and FBI officials, who have supervisory responsibilities regarding the criminal investigation, from reviewing those records in preparation for such a briefing.

All the Republican members of the Gang of Eight have demanded such briefing, so it’d be hard for them to refuse to receive it. But my guess is this would badly discredit Cannon’s effort to thwart the investigation into Donald Trump.

To refuse this order, Aileen Cannon is going to have to assert that the Federal Government doesn’t own its secrets. I don’t rule out that she’ll do so. But if she does, it’ll make an appeal far more modest, and her malign intent far more obvious.

Update: Attempted to correct the relationship between the appeal of a stay and the appeal proper.

Team Trump Knows Details of the Investigation that Jay Bratt Does Not — and Trump’s Already Leaking Them

The WaPo report that one of the documents seized from Trump’s resort pertained to “a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities” is currently 27-paragraphs long. Of those 27 paragraphs, three quote Trump’s attorney, Christopher Kise, using the story to claim that the harm Aileen Cannon imagined in her opinion enjoining the government had come to pass.

Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, decried leaks about the case, which he said “continue with no respect for the process nor any regard for the real truth. This does not serve well the interests of justice.”

“Moreover, the damage to public confidence in the integrity of the system simply cannot be underestimated. The responsible course of action here would be for someone — anyone — in the Government to exercise leadership and control. The Court has provided a sensible path forward which does not include the selective leak of unverifiable and misleading information. There is no reason to deviate from that path if the goal is, as it should be, to find a rational solution to document storage issues which have needlessly spiraled out of control.”


Kise, the Trump lawyer, cited that part of the judge’s reasoning Tuesday night, saying “the damage to public confidence in the integrity of the system simply cannot be underestimated.” He said the special master appointment by the court provides “a sensible path forward which does not include the selective leak of unverifiable and misleading information. There is no reason to deviate from that path if the goal is, as it should be, to find a rational solution to document storage issues which have needlessly spiraled out of control.”

These Kise quotes may have been added in by Josh Dawsey, who was added to the story after an earlier version that lacked the Kise quotes.

Seven paragraphs are dedicated to laying out Aileen Cannon’s opinion, including some passages that are so ridiculous, they deserve a factcheck.

She also reasoned that a special master could mitigate potential harm to Trump “by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public,” suggesting that knowledge or details of the case were harmful to the former president, and could be lessened by inserting a special master into the document-review process.


Cannon wrote that Trump’s position as a former president means “the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own,” and that a “future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude.”

The fact that over a third of this story reporting on leaked information about the things found in the search focuses on the manufactured prospect that leaks to the press about the investigation would be worse than leaks of the actual documents advises some caution — especially since several of the claims in the story are attributed to single sources and all are described only to be “familiar with” the search or the matter.

A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter,


Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or anear-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.


It was in this last batch of government secrets, the people familiar with the matter said, that the information about a foreign government’s nuclear-defense readiness was found.


One person familiar with the Mar-a-Lago search said the goal of the comprehensive list was to ensure recovery of all classified records on the property, and not just those that investigators had reason to believe might be there.


Investigators grew alarmed, according to one person familiar with the search, as they began to review documents retrieved from the club’s storage closet, Trump’s residence and his office in August. The team soon came upon records that are extremely restricted, so much so that even some of the senior-most national security officials in the Biden administration weren’t authorized to review them. One government filing alluded to this information when it noted that counterintelligence FBI agents and prosecutors investigating the Mar-a-Lago documents were not authorized at first to review some of the material seized.

As described, these sources are familiar with the need to recover certain documents and the complexities about classification and clearance. The description of how, during the search, alarm grew about the sensitivity of the documents is sourced to someone who seems unfamiliar with public details about where this document, by definition, would have been found (in the leatherbound box). While I suspect it’s not, it could even come from someone — like a Secret Service agent onsite or someone watching video remotely — who merely observed the search.

Like I said, while I have no reason to doubt the report (indeed, I think it highly plausible, based on the date, that one of the visible documents in DOJ’s picture from the search pertains to JPCOA and therefore to Iran’s “military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities”), I would caution about the motives of those behind it.

Especially since, for almost a week, Team Trump has been privy to parts of the investigation that Jay Bratt, the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, is not.

Close to the beginning of last Thursday’s hearing, Judge Cannon had the filter lawyers share their status review with Trump’s lawyers.

MR. BRATT: So, Your Honor, we have the two filter attorneys present here. We have not seen it; and, certainly, our main concern would be that there was nothing in there that would then get out and taint members of the investigative side. So I would defer to them as to whether the whole document can be unsealed and provided to Defense or whether only a portion. I’m sort of speaking blindly about it.


THE COURT: Good afternoon. My question, Mr. Lacosta, is directed only at the status report not exhibits A or B. What is your position with respect to making that available to Plaintiff’s counsel?

MR. LACOSTA: Your Honor, we have no objection with the pleading itself being made to Plaintiff’s counsel, both the pleading, exhibit A and exhibit B, but we would ask that it remain under seal.

THE COURT: Okay. So for now, please, I’ll ask my team to make those documents available to Plaintiff’s counsel. And because those are lengthier, I’m going to take a 15-minute break for Plaintiff’s counsel to review them. The Court is in a brief recess.

THE COURTROOM DEPUTY: All rise. (Recess was had at 1:11 p.m.; and the proceedings Resumed at 1:26 p.m.)

THE COURT: You may be seated. All right. Has Plaintiff’s counsel had enough time to review that status report?

MR. KISE: We have, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Okay. What is your position on the unsealing of the report itself, minus the exhibits?

MR. KISE: Your Honor, respectfully, we think that both the report itself and the exhibits should remain under seal at this time. The report itself does make some substantive references to privileged material; and, in an abundance of caution, we want to make sure that we don’t get into a situation where there is a waiver claim of some kind. So, respectfully, we would ask the Court to keep it under seal. There may come a time, after we understand a little bit more, where that position could change; but certainly for now, Your Honor, we don’t want to have a waiver situation.

THE COURT: Okay. Well, seeing as it is a joint request at this point to continue the seal as to the filter review team status report and associated exhibits, that document will remain under seal, and the parties should be careful to adhere to that in their presentation today.

This step was actually fairly central to the asymmetry that Cannon used to find some ownership interest in medical and tax documents that Trump might not even own. Bratt couldn’t rebut Cannon’s representations about the material because he is specifically prevented from seeing these materials until after privilege determinations get made.

Significantly, Kise seemed amenable to releasing the content of the material so long as it didn’t involve a waiver of privilege claims.

And Trump just tweeted about precisely this material — material the filter attorney had asked to share with Trump’s lawyers last Thursday, but Cannon prohibited.



There should be no way that a nuclear-related document was mentioned in that privilege progress report. Based on court filings, there are just three items that were initially placed in the potentially privileged bucket that have classification markings.

One is Top Secret (buried along with clippings from 1995!). But at least as described, it doesn’t bear compartment markings.

Trump team has knowledge about things that Jay Bratt does not, but that doesn’t likely extend to that nuclear document.

I mean, Trump likely has knowledge of what documents were in his leatherbound box. But unless he’s confessing to storing that in his closet directly, his team is likely not the source for that part of this story.

On TeeVee this morning, Marco Rubio — who seems to be staking his Senate seat on groveling to Trump — claimed that the only people who have knowledge of the investigation are at DOJ (he also egregiously misstated what happened after Trump refused to fully comply with a subpoena for the marked documents). That’s definitely not true of the most sensitive documents seized there, which an entire apparatus of secrecy must be involved with. But as of last Thursday, we can say with certainty that there are aspects of the investigation that Trump’s team knows more about than the guy leading the investigation.

And Trump is already making claims about things that prosecutors cannot and have not accessed.

NARA May Have Pre-Existing Legal Obligations with Respect to Documents Covered by Aileen Cannon’s Order

On Monday, Aileen Cannon told the government that it can only access 11,282 documents legally owned by the National Archives and currently possessed by DOJ to do an assessment of the damage Trump did by storing those records in a poorly-secured storage closet and desk drawer.

We’ll learn more in coming days about how the government will respond to Cannon’s usurpation of the President’s authority over these documents.

But I want to note that there may be competing legal obligations, on NARA at least, that may affect the government’s response.

NARA has been responding to at least four pending legal obligations as the fight over Trump’s stolen documents has gone on:

  • A series of subpoenas from the January 6 Committee that the Supreme Court has already ruled has precedence over any claims of privilege made by Trump
  • Two subpoenas from DOJ’s team investigating January 6, one obtained in May, covering everything NARA has provided to the J6C, and a second one served on NARA on August 17; these subpoenas would also be covered under SCOTUS’ ruling rejecting Trump’s privilege claims
  • Discovery in Tom Barrack’s case, whose trial starts on September 19 (DOJ informed Barrack they had requested Trump White House materials from NARA on April 5)
  • A subpoena from Peter Strzok in his lawsuit over his firing and privacy act violations

For all of them, NARA has a legal obligation that precedes Judge Cannon’s order. So if any of the material owned by NARA that Cannon has enjoined for Trump’s benefit is covered by these subpoenas and the Barrack discovery request, it will give NARA an additional need to intervene, on top of the fact that Cannon has made decisions about property owned by NARA.

I don’t hold out hope that the August 8 seizure has much pertaining to either January 6 investigation. Given that none of the boxes include clippings that post-date November, its unlikely they include government documents from the same period.


Plus, given the timing, I suspect the more recent subpoena from Thomas Windom to NARA pertains to materials turned over to NARA by Mark Meadows after the Mar-a-Lago search. Because Meadows originally turned those communications over to J6C directly, they would not have been covered by the prior subpoena, which obtained everything NARA turned over to J6C, which wouldn’t have included Meadows’ texts.

Meadows’ submission to the Archives was part of a request for all electronic communications covered under the Presidential Records Act. The Archives had become aware earlier this year it did not have everything from Meadows after seeing what he had turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. Details of Meadows’ submissions to the Archives and the engagement between the two sides have not been previously reported.

“It could be a coincidence, but within a week of the August 8 search on Mar-a-Lago, much more started coming in,” one source familiar with the discussions said.

The second subpoena would have been served days after Meadows started providing these texts.

The possibility that some of the documents seized on August 8 would be discoverable in Barrack’s case is likely higher, particularly given the news that Trump had hoarded at least one document about “a foreign government’s nuclear-defense readiness.” Barrack is accused of working to influence White House policy on issues pertaining to UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that might be implicated by classified documents. If the date of clippings in a particular box reflect the age of the government documents also found in that box, then about 18 boxes seized in August (those marked in purple, above) include records from the period covered by Barrack’s superseding indictment.

That said, whether any such materials would count as being in possession of DOJ is another issue. They are currently in possession of team at DOJ that significantly overlaps with the people prosecuting Barrack for serving as an Agent of the Emirates without telling the Attorney General.

Strzok’s subpoena may be the most likely to cover materials either turned over belatedly or seized on August 8 (though his subpoena was scoped, with DOJ involvement, at a time after the FBI was aware of Trump’s document theft). It asks for:

  1. Records concerning Sarah Isgur’s engagement with reporters from the Washington Post or New York Times about Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page on or about December 1 and 2, 2017.
  2. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting any communications with members of the press related to Peter Strzok and/or Lisa Page.
  3. Records dated July 1, 2017 through December 12, 2017 concerning or reflecting text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
  4. Records dated July 1, 2017 through August 9, 2018 concerning Peter Strzok’s employment at the FBI.

That materials covered by this subpoena made their way at some point to Mar-a-Lago is likely. That’s because of the obsession with records relating to Crossfire Hurricane in the days when Trump was stealing documents — virtually all of those would “concern” Strzok’s FBI employment.

In Mr. Trump’s last weeks in office, Mr. Meadows, with the president’s blessing, prodded federal law enforcement agencies to declassify a binder of Crossfire Hurricane materials that included unreleased information about the F.B.I.’s investigative steps and text messages between two former top F.B.I. officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who had sharply criticized Mr. Trump in their private communications during the 2016 election.

The F.B.I. worried that releasing more information could compromise the bureau, according to people familiar with the debate. Mr. Meadows dismissed those arguments, saying that Mr. Trump himself wanted the information declassified and disseminated, they said.

Just three days before Mr. Trump’s last day in office, the White House and the F.B.I. settled on a set of redactions, and Mr. Trump declassified the rest of the binder. Mr. Meadows intended to give the binder to at least one conservative journalist, according to multiple people familiar with his plan. But he reversed course after Justice Department officials pointed out that disseminating the messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page could run afoul of privacy law, opening officials up to suits.

None of those documents or any other materials pertaining to the Russia investigation were believed to be in the cache of documents recovered by the F.B.I. during the search of Mar-a-Lago, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Side note: NYT’s sources are blowing smoke when they suggest DOJ under Trump would avoid new Privacy Act violations against Strzok and Page; a set of texts DOJ released on September 24, 2020 as part of Jeffrey Jensen’s effort to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution had already constituted a new Privacy Act violation against them.

Notably, Strzok has been pursuing records about a January 22, 2018 meeting Jeff Sessions and Matt Whitaker attended at the White House.

Hours after that meeting (and a half hour call, from 3:20 to 3:50, between then Congressman Mark Meadows and the Attorney General), Jeff Sessions issued a press release about Strzok and Lisa Page.

Discovery has confirmed that the Attorney General released a press statement via email from Ms. Isgur to select reporters between 5:20 and 8:10 PM on January 22, roughly three hours after Attorney General Sessions returned from the White House. The statements promised, “If any wrongdoing were to be found to have caused this gap [in text messages between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page], appropriate legal disciplinary action measure will be taken” and that the Department of Justice would “leave no stone unturned.” (See, e.g., Exhibit F). Based on Mr. Strzok’s review of the documents, it does not appear that this statement was planned prior to the January 22 White House meeting. It is not apparent from the documents produced in this action what deliberation lead to the issuance of that statement. For example, Mr. Strzok has not identified any drafts of the press release.

Any back-up to the White House side of that meeting — whether it has made its way back to NARA or not — would be included within the scope of Strzok’s subpoena. And even if NYT’s sources are correct that no Crossfire Hurricane documents were included among those seized in August (an uncertain claim given how much lying to the press Trump’s people have been doing), records covering Strzok’s firing would be broader than that.

The red rectangles, above, show the 17 documents seized in August for which the clippings would be in the temporal scope of Strzok’s subpoena.

I have no idea what happens if some of the boxes seized on August 8 include material responsive to these legal demands on NARA.

But if those boxes do include such materials, then it presents a competing — and pre-exisitng — legal obligation on the lawful owner of these records.

Update: Viget alerted me that I had not put an “X” by the leatherbound box reflecting its classified contents. I’ve fixed that!

Aileen Cannon Prioritized Donald Trump’s Reputation over CIA Assets’ Lives

I mentioned the Richey factors yesterday: the now-11th Circuit precedent laying out factors a judge should consider before nosing into the government’s warranted seizure of a subject’s property. Here’s how Judge Cannon laid them out before deciding she should nose into the government’s business.

In making this determination, the Court relies in part on the factors identified in Richey v. Smith. 515 F.2d at 1245. 9 In that case, the former Fifth Circuit counseled courts to consider, for equitable jurisdiction purposes, whether the government displayed a callous disregard for the movant’s constitutional rights, whether the movant has an individual interest in and need for the seized property, whether the movant would be irreparably injured by denial of the return of the seized property, and whether the movant otherwise has an adequate remedy at law.

As I laid out, Cannon did some crazy-ass stuff to get past the second factor, property ownership. She used materials that Trump might not even own that she herself had prohibited the government to share with Trump’s lawyers last week, then usurped the authority of the President of the United States (among other things), to claim that Trump had a property interest in the 11,000 stolen government documents the FBI seized on August 8.

Her argument about the irreparable harm that Trump faces because the government seized 11,000 documents — some highly classified — that he refused to return is still more appalling. I just want to look at one part of it, but I know you’ll all enjoy the bit where she says it would harm Trump’s reputation to be charged with a crime.

The same reasoning contributes to the Court’s determination that the third factor—risk of irreparable injury—likewise supports the exercise of jurisdiction. In addition to being deprived of potentially significant personal documents, which alone creates a real harm, Plaintiff faces an unquantifiable potential harm by way of improper disclosure of sensitive information to the public.11 Further, Plaintiff is at risk of suffering injury from the Government’s retention and potential use of privileged materials in the course of a process that, thus far, has been closed off to Plaintiff and that has raised at least some concerns as to its efficacy, even if inadvertently so. See infra Discussion III. Finally, Plaintiff has claimed injury from the threat of future prosecution and the serious, often indelible stigma associated therewith. As the Richey court wrote, “a wrongful indictment is no laughing matter; it often works a grievous, irreparable injury to the person indicted. The stigma cannot be easily erased. In the public mind, the blot on a man’s escutcheon, resulting from such a public accusation of wrongdoing, is seldom wiped out by a subsequent judgment of not guilty. Frequently, the public remembers the accusation, and still suspects guilt, even after an acquittal.” 515 F.2d at 1244 n.10; see also In the Matter of John Bennett, No. 12-61499-CIV-RSR, ECF No. 22 pp. 26–27 (S.D. Fla. July 23, 2013) (explaining that, although some courts have rejected Richey’s observation as to the harm posed by indictments, Richey remains binding on district courts in the Eleventh Circuit). As a function of Plaintiff’s former position as President of the United States, the stigma associated with the subject seizure is in a league of its own. A future indictment, based to any degree on property that ought to be returned, would result in reputational harm of a decidedly different order of magnitude.

11 When asked about the dissemination to the media of information relative to the contents of the seized records, Government’s counsel stated that he had no knowledge of any leaks stemming from his team but candidly acknowledged the unfortunate existence of leaks to the press. [my emphasis]

Yes, it is outrageous that Aline Cannon places more value on Trump’s reputation than those of hundreds of people he has falsely accused over his lifetime, most notably the Central Park Five, but also including Hillary Clinton and John Bolton, both of whom he falsely accused of the crime for which he is currently under investigation.

Yes, it is outrageous that she deems an irreparable harm the hypothetical deprivation of documents that not even the lawyer who claimed to have done a diligent search of these boxes can identify.

But consider Aileen Cannon’s logic about leaks. Here’s the exchange that, she says, amounts to DOJ’s head of counterintelligence, Jay Bratt, “acknowledg[ing] the unfortunate existence of leaks to the press.”

THE COURT: Let me ask also, there has been some discussion in the filings related to leaks or disseminations of information to the media. Are you aware, Mr. Bratt, of any such dissemination to the media, relative to the contents of the seized records?

MR. BRATT: Not on the part of anybody that I’m working with. Obviously, you know, things — I see the same things in the press that other people do. It’s bad. People are talking. If people on the Government’s side are talking about it, I’m not aware of anybody that we work with that has had contact with the press and certainly don’t condone it in any way.

Bratt not only didn’t say that anyone on the investigative team had leaked to the press, he specifically said no one he was working with did. No one who would have access to the documents — which, remember, were seized from a padlocked closet in a hallway trafficked by hotel staff and potentially visitors and infiltrators, as well as Trump’s desk drawer and, maybe, a hotel safe — none of those people have leaked to the press.

It’s pretty obvious they haven’t, because none of the leaks to the press have been accurate. The vast majority of them, in fact, can be matched to false claims Trump has made in his own filings.

Trump is leaking. The investigative team is not.

Ironically, in her order, Cannon also revealed details about the potentially privileged content seized from Trump. She’s done more leaking than the investigative team has.

And so Judge Aileen Cannon’s remedy for the risk of hypothetical leaks about Trump is to give the seized documents, including documents marked TS/SCI with compartments including, among other things, Human Source Operations, back to Trump and the lawyers who are leaking up a storm, not a single one of whom has a need to know about these Human Source Operations anymore.

Not only does Judge Aileen Cannon’s remedy for a hypothetical threat posed by leaks that haven’t happened yet, but she also has forbidden the government from continuing to criminally investigate Trump and any co-conspirators he might have. She has forbidden the FBI from using the documents to try to chase down any existing leakers of these documents (though she has allowed a damage assessment that will be virtually impossible to do without the FBI side of the investigation).

Judge Cannon is worried about a hypothetical threat to Trump’s reputation posed by the leak of materials seized from his hall closet and desk drawers, and because of that, she has prohibited the FBI from investigating Trump for willingly, knowingly, obstinately leaving stuff about Human Source Operations lying around a hotel targeted by foreign intelligence services.

For a year, Donald Trump left 325 files lying around his club, unsecured. After he gave 184 of them back in January 2022, he went to great efforts to prevent the FBI from reviewing what kind of damage he had done, delaying their access by a month. All the while, he secretly kept at least 141 more of those files in his desk drawer and hall storage room, even after it was public that he had been storing sensitive records in his poorly secured resort. The government subpoenaed him. He stalled again. He gave back 38 of those documents, while still hiding another 103, still lying around his poorly protected club. He bought a padlock, his lawyers have claimed in leaks to the press. Finally, on August 8, the FBI came and seized another 103 documents, still including documents protected as part of highly sensitive compartments that, if disclosed, could get people killed.

Judge Aileen Cannon has ruled that it is more important that Donald Trump’s reputation be protected from hypothetical leaks than that FBI be able to remedy the possibility that leaks facilitated by Donald Trump’s obstinance  and neglect could get people killed.

Donald Trump has already been given 18 months in which his obstinance has prevented the government from preventing leaks of the sort that can get people killed. Now, out of fear of hypothetical reputational leaks, Judge Aileen Cannon has mandated that Trump and any co-conspirators be given still more time to get people killed.

Judge Aileen Cannon’s Funny Ideas about Being Owned

As noted yesterday, Judge Aileen Cannon enjoined the government from conducting a criminal investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction because around 4.5% — possibly as little as .5% — of the materials seized from Trump in 27 boxes amount to things more personal than MAGA hats and press clippings.

Her logic rests on a series of false claims about what amounts to being owned.

To understand why, you need to understand how a conservative Republican judge — child of a refugee from Communist Cuba! — upended property rights to halt a criminal investigation into the theft of property.

Aileen Cannon agrees that possession is the law

Trump’s motion had asked for a Special Master who would tell them what was in the boxes that Evan Corcoran told the FBI he had already reviewed diligently so he, Trump, could file a Rule 41(g) motion to claw that stuff back. He wasn’t filing it as a Rule 41(g) motion. He was filing something to give the lawyer who claimed to have gone through all these boxes enough knowledge of them to file a Rule 41(g) motion.

But, as DOJ’s head of the Espionage section. Jay Bratt, explained when he described in a hearing before Judge Cannon that DOJ was treating this as a Rule 41(g) motion and why this should end everything, Rule 41(g) only works if someone is trying to claw back their own property. Trump doesn’t own the vast majority of what was seized.

One is Rule 41(g), and we believe this is a truly 41(g) motion; or second, the Court can exercise a second or anomalous jurisdiction. To do that, that then triggers certain inquires the Court must make, and it also triggers certain burdens on them to establish that they satisfy those standards.

The civil cover sheet to this matter references Rule 41(g). There are frequent references throughout Plaintiff’s briefs to Rule 41(g), and we believe that what they have really done is brought a Rule 41(g) motion. And if the Court interprets and reads and applies Rule 41(g) strictly, they cannot get a special master or the relief that they seek, and that’s because the key factor that must exist for a party to bring a Rule 41(g) motion is that the party has a possessory interest in the property at issue.

And let me describe what the former President has as Presidential records that the 45th President took. He is no longer the President; and because he is no longer the President, he did not have the right to take those documents. He was unlawfully in possession of them; and because he has no possessory interest in those records, that ends the analysis under Rule 41(g).

That means, under the second prong of binding precedent in the 11 Circuit, if Trump doesn’t own this stuff, he’s not entitled to relief.

THE COURT: You don’t dispute one can bring a civil action in equity for the return of property pre-indictment assuming the equitable factors and consideration to counsel in favor of such an action.

MR. BRATT: I do agree with that; but under the Richey factors and to go through them — and actually, I was going to start with the first, callus disregard for Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, I will get back to that. But the second Richey factor is that Plaintiff must have an interest in and need for the property, and this plaintiff does not have an interest in the classified and other Presidential records. So under Richey, that, in and of itself, defeats or should point the Court to decline to exercise its equitable jurisdiction.

Cannon agreed with Bratt on the law. If Trump doesn’t own this stuff, he can’t demand it back.

Like Bratt, she sort of takes Trump’s bizarre filing as a Rule 41(g) motion too, even while she calls Trump’s arguments convoluted.

As previewed, Plaintiff initiated this action with a hybrid motion that seeks independent review of the property seized from his residence on August 8, 2022, a temporary injunction on any further review by the Government in the meantime, and ultimately the return of the seized property under Rule 41(g) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. 6 Though somewhat convoluted, this filing is procedurally permissible7 and creates an action in equity. See Richey v. Smith, 515 F.2d 1239, 1245 (5th Cir. 1975) (“[A] motion [for return of property] prior to [a] criminal proceeding[] . . . is more properly considered simply a suit in equity rather than one under the Rules of Criminal Procedure.”);

By treating this as a convoluted Rule 41(g) motion, she is conceding the centrality of the ownership of the items at issue to the analysis.

Indeed, as she notes in a footnote, this is all about property.

7 Rule 41(g) allows movants, prior to the return of an indictment, to initiate stand-alone actions “in the district where [their] property was seized.” See Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(g); United States v. Wilson, 540 F.2d 1100, 1104 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (“Property which is seized . . . either by search warrant or subpoena may be ultimately disposed of by the court in that proceeding or in a subsequent civil action.”); In the Matter of John Bennett, No. 12-61499-CIV-RSR, ECF No. 1 (S.D. Fla. July 31, 2012) (initiating an action with a “petition to return property”); see also In re Grand Jury Investigation of Hugle, 754 F.2d 863, 865 (9th Cir. 1985) (“[A] court is not required to defer relief [relating to privileged material] until after issuance of the indictment.”).

So Judge Cannon agrees that this issue significantly pivots around property. It is in how she effectively seizes government property (in the same ruling where she suggests one should be able to steal and sell Ashely Biden’s property with impunity) where things begin to go haywire.

Aileen Cannon refused to return Trump’s personal information so she could justify stealing US taxpayer property

Cannon starts her decision on whether to appoint a Special Master not on the privilege questions, but on Richey, which is how one decides whether someone should get their property back. In her analysis of the second prong of Richey, she decides (virtually all of this entails Cannon doing things Trump’s attorneys did not do) that Trump does have a property interest in this material. She points to medical and tax records the likes of which she believes people should be able to steal from Ashely Biden with impunity and says those — a tiny fraction of the whole — gives Trump standing under Richey.

The second factor—whether the movant has an individual interest in and need for the seized property—weighs in favor of entertaining Plaintiff’s requests. According to the Privilege Review Team’s Report, the seized materials include medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information [ECF No. 40-2; see also ECF No. 48 p. 18 (conceding that Plaintiff “may have a property interest in his personal effects”)]. The Government also has acknowledged that it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value” and, by its own estimation, upwards of 500 pages of material potentially subject to attorney-client privilege [ECF No. 48 p. 16; ECF No. 40 p. 2]. Thus, based on the volume and nature of the seized material, the Court is satisfied that Plaintiff has an interest in and need for at least a portion of it, even if the underlying subsidiary detail as to each item cannot reasonably be determined at this time based on the information provided by the Government to date. 10

10 To the extent the Government challenges Plaintiff’s standing to bring this action, the Court addresses that argument below. See infra Discussion II.

This is why I laid out how small a percentage of the seized records this involves. On August 8, the government seized 11,282 stolen government records, of which 103 are marked as classified, 1,673 press clippings, and around 64 “sets of material” that might be privileged. 

Those 64 sets of material have not been shared with the investigative team. They’ve been segregated by the privilege team. Cannon doesn’t even claim Trump owns them. He may not! They may be White House Counsel documents about the Mazars challenge or White House physician documents about Trump’s COVID treatment. We don’t know whether they do or not because they are being protected, for Trump’s sake.

But the claim that this personal information equates to a property interest is one of three things that Cannon cites to substantiate her claim that something among this vast swath of stolen documents is owned by Donald Trump.

Then, Aileen Cannon double counts stuff. She only knows about — and has “leaked” the details about these medical and tax records — because she (unlike the investigative team) has read and publicly disclosed material from the filter team report. There are upwards of 500 pages that might be privileged (520, the privilege team says), which she counts as a separate property interest of Trump’s from the seized medical and tax records found within those 520 pages that only the privilege team has seen, even though it’s the same 520 pages and US taxpayers might well own those 520 pages (if, for example, they pertained to Trump’s treatment for COVID or DOJ’s defense of Trump in the Mazars case) as well.

That would be crazy enough. But to ensure she’d even get to this ruling, Cannon already refused to let DOJ share all this, the 520 pages of potentially privileged material and the tax and medical records therein. The filter team lawyers, Benjamin Hawk, asked to do so last Thursday. But Cannon told him no, because she wanted to do all this “holistically”.

MR. HAWK: We would like to seek permission to provide copies — the proposal that we offered, Your Honor, provide copies to counsel of the 64 sets of the materials that are Bates stamped so they have the opportunity to start reviewing.

THE COURT: I’m sorry, say that again, please.

MR. HAWK: The privilege review team would have provided Bates stamped copies of the 64 sets of documents to Plaintiff’s counsel. We would like to seek permission from Your Honor to be able to provide those now, not at this exact moment but to move forward to providing those so counsel has the opportunity to review them and understand and have the time to review and do their own analysis of those documents to come to their own conclusions. And if the filter process without a special master were allowed to proceed, we would engage with counsel and have conversations, determine if we can reach agreements; to the extent we couldn’t reach agreements, we would bring those before the Court, whether Your Honor or Judge Reinhart. But simply now, I’m seeking permission just to provide those documents to Plaintiff’s counsel.

THE COURT: All right. I’m going to reserve ruling on that request. I prefer to consider it holistically in the assessment of whether a special master is indeed appropriate for those privileged reviews.

So the only reason DOJ still has exclusive possession of the materials on which she hangs her Richey analysis is because she, Aileen Cannon, prohibited DOJ from sharing it, and she uses DOJ’s possession of it to prevent the government from investigating the thousands of government documents Trump stole.

As for the rest, she makes stuff up. As noted, she claims that in the government’s response they admitted that, “The Government also has acknowledged that it seized some “[p]ersonal effects without evidentiary value.” She returns to this citation several times to claim that the government has acknowledged it seized stuff it should not have. Tell me if you can find that acknowledgment in the passage she cites (I’ve bolded what she claims is such an acknowledgement and italicized something Cannon entirely ignored):

As his last claim for relief, Plaintiff asks this Court to order “the Government to return any item seized pursuant to the Search Warrant that was not within the scope of the Search Warrant.” D.E. 28 at 10; see id. at 4. In Plaintiff’s view, retaining such material “would amount to a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against wrongful searches and seizures.” D.E. 28 at 9. Although Plaintiff does not specify what material he contends was seized in excess of the search warrant, certain personal effects were commingled with classified material in the Seized Evidence, and they remain in the custody of the United States because of their evidentiary value. Personal effects without evidentiary value will be returned.

Nonetheless, contrary to Plaintiff’s contention, personal effects in these circumstances are not subject to return under Criminal Rule 41(g), for four independent reasons. First, the search warrant authorized seizing and retaining items in containers/boxes in which documents with classification markings were stored. See MJ Docket D.E. 17 at 4. Evidence of commingling personal effects with documents bearing classification markings is relevant evidence of the statutory offenses under investigation.

Second, even if the personal effects were outside the scope of the search warrant (contrary to fact), their seizure and retention would not violate the Fourth Amendment because they were commingled with documents bearing classification markings that were indisputably within the scope of the search warrant. See, e.g., United States v. Wuagneux, 683 F.2d 1343, 1353 (11th Cir. 1982) (“It was also reasonable for the agents to remove intact files, books and folders when a particular document within the file was identified as falling with the scope of the warrant. To require otherwise ‘would substantially increase the time required to conduct the search, thereby aggravating the intrusiveness of the search.’” (citation omitted)).

Third, even if the personal effects were seized in excess of the search warrant—which Plaintiff has not established—Criminal Rule 41(g) does not require their return because that Rule was amended in 1989 to recognize that the United States may retain evidence collected while executing a warrant in good faith. See, e.g., Grimes v. CIR, 82 F.3d 286, 291 (9th Cir. 1996). As the Advisory Committee explained in connection with the 1989 amendment of Criminal Rule 41(e) (now subsection (g)), Supreme Court precedent permits “evidence seized in violation of the fourth amendment, but in good faith pursuant to a warrant,” to be used “even against a person aggrieved by the constitutional violation,” and “Rule 41(e) is not intended to deny the United States the use of evidence permitted by the fourth amendment and federal statutes.” The decoupling of Criminal Rule 41(g) from the Fourth Amendment also explains why a motion to return property provides no forum to litigate the scope of a search warrant: failure to comply with a search warrant or the Fourth Amendment is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove a movant’s entitlement to the return of property under Criminal Rule 41(g). [bold and italics mine]

Look at what she did!!! First, she took a subjunctive statement — that if the FBI were to find personal items without evidentiary value (like his passports, which they already returned, of which she makes no mention, because it would prove the government is right) — and outright lied and claimed it was a concession they had found such things. The reason she doesn’t mention the passports, by the way, is because the government said, “The location of the passports is relevant evidence in an investigation of unauthorized retention and mishandling of national defense information.” So even there, they asserted an investigative interest. But in a passage where the government states, outright, that the Plaintiff has not established the government has seized anything not covered by the warrant, Aileen Cannon simply invents a concession that says they took stuff that is unnecessary to the investigation. Makes it up!

And yet she uses it as part of her “proof” that there are personal belongings among the 11,000 stolen documents. And she invented it out of thin air.

Cannon puts a Special Master where the DC District should be

Note what Judge Cannon didn’t deal with in this analysis of the second prong of Richey? DOJ’s assertion that Trump doesn’t own any of the 11,000-plus stolen documents seized as contraband. She separates the question of who owns the bulk of the materials seized into a separate section, purportedly about standing, not Richey.

Only after she decides that Trump has a possessory interest in the 11,000 stolen documents because of the tax and medical records therein that she prevented DOJ from sharing with Trump’s lawyers last week does she turn to the Presidential Records Act that makes these stolen documents. The first time she does so, and in a separate section, she dismisses the government’s argument about standing under Richey — analysis about which she has just done — as premature.

The Government relies on the definition of “Presidential records” under the Presidential Records Act (the “PRA”), see 44 U.S.C. § 2201(2), and on the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Howell, 425 F.3d at 974; see supra note 12.

Plaintiff opposes the Government’s standing argument as premature and fundamentally flawed [ECF No. 58 p. 2]. In Plaintiff’s view, what matters now is his authority to seek the appointment of a special master—not his underlying legal entitlement to possess the records or his definable “possessory interest” under Rule 41(g) [ECF No. 58 pp. 4–6]. Moreover, Plaintiff adds, even assuming the Court were inclined at this juncture to consider Plaintiff’s potential claim of unreasonableness under the Fourth Amendment, settled law permits him, as the owner of the premises searched, to object to the seizure as unreasonable [ECF No. 58 pp. 2, 4–6].

Having considered these crisscrossing arguments, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is not barred as a matter of standing from bringing this Rule 41(g) action or from invoking the Court’s authority to appoint a special master more generally.


Although the Government argues that Plaintiff has no property interest in any of the presidential records seized from his residence, that position calls for an ultimate judgment on the merits as to those documents and their designations. [my emphasis]

Side note: it doesn’t matter for Fourth Amendment precedent, but this is another example of where Cannon seizes and reallocates property with wild abandon. Trump does not own Mar-a-Lago. The club does, and Trump Organization owns that. The failson is apparently in charge of it all. This has apparently been an issue in both the Beryl Howell grand jury docket and the Bruce Reinhart warrant docket. So while it doesn’t matter to her legal analysis, she simply invents Trump’s ownership of a club that his biological person does not own and on that basis uses it to give Trump standing.

But in this passage, which she conducts separately from the Richey analysis that pivots entirely on a made up claim and possession of documents she herself prohibited the government from sharing, she implies that proceedings before her will make, “an ultimate judgment on the merits as to those documents and their designations” — that is, a determination of ownership under the PRA.

Five pages later, in a section on Executive Privilege, she concedes that questions about ownership under the Presidential Records Act don’t belong before a Special Master appointed by a SDFL judge. It belongs in the DC District.

16 The Court recognizes that, under the PRA, “[t]he United States District Court for the District of Columbia shall have jurisdiction over any action initiated by the former President asserting that a determination made by the Archivist” to permit public dissemination of presidential records “violates the former President’s [constitutional] rights or privileges.” 44 U.S.C. § 2204.

Having conceded that, Cannon has conceded she has no authority to appoint a Special Master to adjudge ownership under PRA. But in the same opinion where she concedes she doesn’t have this authority, she appoints a Special Master to weigh in on the matter.

This wouldn’t matter if Cannon just appointed a Special Master to review the attorney-client privilege claims. But her order envisions a review of all 11,000 seized stolen documents, based on her assertion that the question of ownership is still uncertain.

Aileen Cannon declares herself President and overrides Joe Biden’s delegated Executive Privilege decision

Judge Cannon could have simply appointed a Special Master to review Attorney-Client determinations (and such a decision might have been modest and defensible). But after assuming the right to appoint a Special Master to determine PRA issues, she then wades into Executive Privilege, claiming that Trump (whose lawyer told the FBI he had closely inspected all these boxes) has not had an opportunity to invoke Executive Privilege.

On the current record, having been denied an opportunity to inspect the seized documents, Plaintiff has not formally asserted executive privilege as to any specific materials, nor has the incumbent President upheld or withdrawn such an assertion.

She points to two precedents pertaining to the EP claims of a former President against a co-equal branch of government and on that basis claims that it remains unsettled whether Trump can invoke Executive Privilege to claw back material from the Executive branch.

The Government asserts that executive privilege has no role to play here because Plaintiff—a former head of the Executive Branch—is entirely foreclosed from successfully asserting executive privilege against the current Executive Branch [ECF No. 48 pp. 24–25]. In the Court’s estimation, this position arguably overstates the law. In Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), a case involving review of presidential communications by a government archivist, the Supreme Court expressly recognized that (1) former Presidents may assert claims of executive privilege, id. at 439; (2) “[t]he expectation of the confidentiality of executive communications . . . [is] subject to erosion over time after an administration leaves office,” id. at 451; and (3) the incumbent President is “in the best position to assess the present and future needs of the Executive Branch” for purposes of executive privilege, id. at 449. The Supreme Court did not rule out the possibility of a former President overcoming an incumbent President on executive privilege matters. Further, just this year, the Supreme Court noted that, at least in connection with a congressional investigation, “[t]he questions whether and in what circumstances a former President may obtain a court order preventing disclosure of privileged records from his tenure in office, in the face of a determination by the incumbent President to waive the privilege, are unprecedented and raise serious and substantial concerns.” Trump v. Thompson, 142 S. Ct. 680, 680 (2022); see also id. at 680 (Kavanaugh, J., respecting denial of application for stay)


Thus, even if any assertion of executive privilege by Plaintiff ultimately fails in this context, that possibility, even if likely, does not negate a former President’s ability to raise the privilege as an initial matter. Accordingly, because the Privilege Review Team did not screen for material potentially subject to executive privilege, further review is required for that additional purpose.

This is insane analysis. But the craziest part is that, with those words, “further review is required,” Aileen Cannon appoints herself President and overrides an Executive Privilege decision the actual President has already made.

Oh sure. She pretends the actual President hasn’t already weighed in.

Here’s how smothers Joe Biden — and the delegation he made to the Archives in May to make an Executive Privilege determination — with a pillow. On page 2, Cannon lays out the posture of this case this way.

On April 12, 2022, NARA notified Plaintiff that it intended to provide the Fifteen Boxes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) the following week [ECF No. 48 p. 5]. Plaintiff then requested an extension on the contemplated delivery so that he could determine the existence of any privileged material [ECF No. 48-1 p. 7]. The White House Counsel’s Office granted the request [ECF No. 48-1 p. 7]. On May 10, 2022, NARA informed Plaintiff that it would proceed with “provid[ing] the FBI access to the records in question, as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022” [ECF No. 48-1 p. 9]. The Government’s filing states that the FBI did not obtain access to the Fifteen Boxes until approximately May 18, 2022 [ECF No. 48 p. 7].

She draws from page 5 of the government response and non-contiguous pages, page 7 and 9, from the letter Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall sent Evan Corcoran in May. She left out page 8 of the appendix, in which Steidel Wall said this:

[T]he Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), strongly suggests that a former President may not successfully assert executive privilege “against the very Executive Branch in whose name the privilege is invoked.” Id. at 447-48. In Nixon v. GSA, the Court rejected former President Nixon’s argument that a statute requiring that Presidential records from his term in office be maintained in the custody of, and screened by, NARA’s predecessor agency-a “very limited intrusion by personnel in the Executive Branch sensitive to executive concerns”-would “impermissibly interfere with candid communication of views by Presidential advisers.” Id. at 451 ; see also id. at 455 (rejecting the claim). The Court specifically noted that an “incumbent President should not be dependent on happenstance or the whim of a prior President when he seeks access to records of past decisions that define or channel current governmental obligations.” Id. at 452; see also id. at 441-46 ( emphasizing, in the course of rejecting a separation-of-powers challenge to a provision of a federal statute governing the disposition of former President Nixon ‘s tape recordings, papers, and other historical materials “within the Executive Branch,” where the “employees of that branch [would] have access to the materials only ‘for lawful Government use,” ‘ that “[t]he Executive Branch remains in full control of the Presidential materials, and the Act facially is designed to ensure that the materials can be released only when release is not barred by some applicable privilege inherent in that branch”; and concluding that “nothing contained in the Act renders it unduly disruptive of the Executive Branch”).

It is not necessary that I decide whether there might be any circumstances in which a former President could successfully assert a claim of executive privilege to prevent an Executive Branch agency from having access to Presidential records for the performance of valid executive functions. The question in this case is not a close one. The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the Federal Government itself, not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the National Security Division explained, to “conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps.” These reviews will be conducted by current government personnel who, like the archival officials in Nixon v. GSA, are “sensitive to executive concerns.” Id. at 451. And on the other side of the balance, there is no reason to believe such reviews could “adversely affect the ability of future Presidents to obtain the candid advice necessary for effective decision-making.” Id. at 450. To the contrary: Ensuring that classified information is appropriately protected, and taking any necessary remedial action if it was not, are steps essential to preserving the ability of future Presidents to “receive the full and frank submissions of facts and opinions upon which effective discharge of [their] duties depends.” Id. at 449.

The bolded language, by the way, is a premise that Cannon adopts in letting the government continue its damage assessment. But she doesn’t cite it, probably because it would make clear not just how outlandish her argument is, but that this decision has already been made.

And Cannon cut out page 6 of the government response, which says this.

As the NARA Referral stated, the Fifteen Boxes contained “highly classified records.” Upon learning this, DOJ sought access to the Fifteen Boxes in part “so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them.” Wall Letter at 1. DOJ followed the steps outlined in the Presidential Records Act to obtain access to the Fifteen Boxes.

On April 12, 2022, NARA advised counsel for the former President that it intended to provide the FBI with the records the following week (i.e., the week of April 18). Id. at 2. That access was not provided then, however, because a representative of the former President requested an extension of the production date to April 29. See id. As the Acting Archivist recounted, on April 29, DOJ advised counsel for the former President as follows:

There are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials. According to NARA, among the materials in the boxes are over 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials. Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps. Accordingly, we are seeking immediate access to these materials so as to facilitate the necessary assessments that need to be conducted within the Executive Branch.

See id.

On the same date that DOJ sent this correspondence, counsel for the former President requested an additional extension before the materials were provided to the FBI and stated that in the event that another extension was not granted, the letter should be construed as “‘a protective assertion of executive privilege made by counsel for the former President.’” Id. In its May 10 response, NARA rejected both of counsel’s requests. First, NARA noted that significant time—four weeks—had elapsed since NARA first informed counsel of its intent to provide the documents to the FBI. Id. Second, NARA stated that the former President could not assert executive privilege to prevent others within the Executive Branch from reviewing the documents, calling that decision “not a close one.” Id. at 3. NARA rejected on the same basis counsel’s “‘protective assertion’” of privilege. Id. at 3-4. Accordingly, NARA informed counsel that it would provide the FBI access to the records beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022. Id. at 4. Although the former President could have taken legal action prior to May 12 to attempt to block the FBI’s access to the documents in the Fifteen Boxes, he did not do so.

Again, Cannon simply ignores that these issues were resolved in May.

She also ignores something Julie Edelstein said in the hearing before her: that the government waited before accessing the 15 boxes turned over in January to give Trump a chance to claim Executive Privilege, which he never did.

Also notably, that letter was provided on May 10th. Purposefully, we waited a few days before beginning the FBI’s review of that material to give the Plaintiff the remedy he could have sought at that time, which was to bring a suit in the District of Colombia to assert executive privilege over those materials. He did not.

Aileen Cannon knows Joe Biden has already weighed in on the EP issue, but she pretends he hasn’t and decides that she, Aileen Cannon, must review hypothetical claims of EP raised against the Executive branch.

Stealing classified documents is not immediately incriminating

One of the funnier moves Cannon makes is in claiming that the seizure of these documents two months after Trump swore he had turned over all documents marked classified in his possession is not immediately incriminating.

Importantly, after DOJ released this picture, Trump complained that FBI took a picture showing the documents in question in a condition other than he stored them in, a clear admission he had possessed them. Effectively, he has already confessed to the crime.

And it’s not just him either. In the hearing, Jim Trusty scoffed that showing smoking gun proof that DOJ caught Trump with documents that his Custodian of Records swore he did not have would be relevant to the question of a Special Master.

You even have what happened two days ago, the insertion in a motion about the special master of a perfectly staged photograph of classified covers on documents. I mean, how that was supposed to help the Court decide the issue of special master is beyond me.

Trump and his lawyers have admitted that these documents were seized at Mar-a-Lago.

That’s relevant to an invocation of an 11th Circuit precedent ruling that Jay Bratt made in the hearing. someone does not have standing to make a Rule 41(g) motion over material he obtained via crime.

The sort of standing or jurisdiction that you have to have right now pre-indictment as set forth in Rule 41(g), as set forth in the Howell case, and as I’m about to talk with respect to the equity jurisdiction Bennett case that Judge Rosenbaum decided when she was a judge here, that is very limited. And whether you call it “standing” or “jurisdiction,” they do not have it here. And in order to get the jurisdiction or standing under Rule 41(g), that is a key requirement. In fact, it is the key requirement, that you have a possessory interest in a property. If, at a later point, the Fourth Amendment — potential Fourth Amendment violations need to be vindicated, that is done through a motion on suppression. It is not done through a Rule 41(g) motion pre-indictment.


There are also, you know, three I think very important, overarching factors that the courts emphasize when a judge in your position is being asked to exercise equity jurisdiction for return of property. One is that the exercise of that jurisdiction must be with caution and restraint, and it must be exercised only to prevent a manifest injustice; and the third, any time a party comes to equity, the party must have clean hands. And here, the former President being in unlawful possession of classified and other Presidential records, that is a text book example of unclean hands.

Cannon argues that because Howell pertained to someone who had already pled guilty, it is inapt here. Note that she relies, again, on the personal documents she herself refused to let DOJ share with Trump’s lawyers.

At the hearing, the Government argued that the equitable concept of “unclean hands” bars Plaintiff from moving under Rule 41(g), citing United States v. Howell, 425 F.3d 971, 974 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[I]n order for a district court to grant a Rule 41(g) motion, the owner of the property must have clean hands.”). Howell involved a defendant who pled guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and then sought the return of $140,000 in government-issued funds that were seized from him following a drug sale to a confidential source. Id. at 972–73. That case is not factually analogous to the circumstances presented and does not provide a basis to decline to exercise equitable jurisdiction here. Plaintiff has not pled guilty to any crimes; the Government has not clearly explained how Plaintiff’s hands are unclean with respect to the personal materials seized; and in any event, this is not a situation in which there is no room to doubt the immediately apparent incriminating nature of the seized material, as in the case of the sale of cocaine.

Cannon is all worked up over whether Trump is guilty, and not that under Howell, Trump has an affirmative requirement to prove he owns the stuff seized before she can grant him relief.

In order for an owner of property to invoke Rule 41(g), he must show that he had a possessory interest in the property seized by the government.

But even the unclean hands language requires analysis, first, of whether Trump legally possessed the items at issue.

Furthermore, in order for a district court to grant a Rule 41(g) motion, the owner of the property must have clean hands. See Gaudiosi v. Mellon, 269 F.2d 873, 881-82 (3d Cir.1959)(stating, no principle is better settled than the maxim that he who comes into equity must come with “clean hands” and keep them clean throughout the course of the litigation, and that if he violates this rule, he must be denied all relief whatever may have been the merits of his claim.)

The doctrine of “unclean hands” is an equitable test that is used by courts in deciding equitable fate.

As Cannon has already conceded, that question can only be determined in the DC District, not by a Special Master in SDFL.

Remember: Trump might not even own the things (identified in the privilege report and so unavailable to Bratt to address) on which Cannon has rested all her analysis. It could well be White House Counsel materials about the Mazars case or White House Physician materials about his near-death from COVID. Trump hasn’t made the argument they are his either (he instead relied on the passports that she ignored).

But based on first, her refusal to let DOJ share that material with Trump, and then her declaration that he does own it, Cannon has overturned the property structure before her, the 11,000 stolen government documents and the Executive Privilege that Biden has already, by delegation, asserted. Rather than forcing Trump to prove he owns this property, she’s just giving him default ownership of it.

In her desperation to shut down a criminal investigation into the theft of government documents, including highly classified ones, Aileen Cannon engages in large-scale appropriation of taxpayer owned property.

Update: Thanks for the corrections that Cannon was born in Colombia, not Cuba.

Judge Aileen Cannon Thinks 64 Tax and Medical Records No Investigator Has Read are More Important than 11,282 Stolen Government Documents

I’ll have a lot to say about Judge Aileen Cannon’s outrageous order enjoining the government from conducting a criminal investigation into violations of the Espionage Act. I want to start with the way that she has chosen to risk Donald Trump’s attorney-client privilege in order to vindicate it.

Cannon didn’t just order a Special Master be imposed to review a subset of 520-pages of material set aside as potentially privileged (something that would be unexceptional, but something that would actually give Trump’s lawyers less involvement than the filter team was preparing to give his lawyers last week, when they wanted to hand these documents over directly to Trump’s lawyers).

Those amount to 64 sets of documents out of the 11282 seized on August 8 — less than 4.6% of the seized documents (and likely close to .5%).

She said that because the filter team worked better than mandated by the warrant, it was proof the filter team wasn’t working, and so a Special Master would have to go over everything again.

To begin, the Government’s argument assumes that the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening for potentially privileged material was sufficient, yet there is evidence from which to call that premise into question here. See In re Sealed Search Warrant & Application for a Warrant by Tel. or Other Reliable Elec. Means, 11 F.4th at 1249–51; see also Abbell, 914 F. Supp. at 520 (appointing a special master even after the government’s taint attorney already had reviewed the seized material). As reflected in the Privilege Review Team’s Report, the Investigative Team already has been exposed to potentially privileged material. Without delving into specifics, the Privilege Review Team’s Report references at least two instances in which members of the Investigative Team were exposed to material that was then delivered to the Privilege Review Team and, following another review, designated as potentially privileged material [ECF No. 40 p. 6]. Those instances alone, even if entirely inadvertent, yield questions about the adequacy of the filter review process.13

13 In explaining these incidents at the hearing, counsel from the Privilege Review Team characterized them as examples of the filter process working. The Court is not so sure. These instances certainly are demonstrative of integrity on the part of the Investigative Team members who returned the potentially privileged material. But they also indicate that, on more than one occasion, the Privilege Review Team’s initial screening failed to identify potentially privileged material. The Government’s other explanation—that these instances were the result of adopting an overinclusive view of potentially privileged material out of an abundance of caution—does not satisfy the Court either. Even accepting the Government’s untested premise, the use of a broad standard for potentially privileged material does not explain how qualifying material ended up in the hands of the Investigative Team. Perhaps most concerning, the Filter Review Team’s Report does not indicate that any steps were taken after these instances of exposure to wall off the two tainted members of the Investigation Team [see ECF No. 40]. In sum, without drawing inferences, there is a basis on this record to question how materials passed through the screening process, further underscoring the importance of procedural safeguards and an additional layer of review. See, e.g., In re Grand Jury Subpoenas, 454 F.3d 511, 523 (6th Cir. 2006) (“In United States v. Noriega, 764 F. Supp. 1480 (S.D. Fla. 1991), for instance, the government’s taint team missed a document obviously protected by attorney-client privilege, by turning over tapes of attorney-client conversations to members of the investigating team. This Noriega incident points to an obvious flaw in the taint team procedure: the government’s fox is left in charge of the appellants’ henhouse, and may err by neglect or malice, as well as by honest differences of opinion.”).

What happened, we can tell from context and the available inventory, is that after an initial privilege review released material to the investigative team, the investigative team found two individual documents seized from the storage room that might be privileged, and then turned them over to the filter team. That complies, to a T, to the requirements of the law and the warrant (which only required the filter team review stuff from Trump’s office). This is what happens in every single criminal case in the US. But Cannon deemed it as proof of failure, and so used it to require a Special Master review everything anew.

According to her ruling, the government must halt their criminal investigation into 103 stolen government documents with classification marks, 11,179 stolen government documents that lack classification marks, and 1,673 press clippings (she gets these numbers wrong in her order), because 64 sets of documents that the investigative team has not seen yet includes potentially privileged information as well as, “medical documents, correspondence related to taxes, and accounting information” — details that she chose to make public for the first time even while premising the primary grave damage to Trump as leaks to the public.

She won’t let DOJ investigate a crime. But she will let the Office of Director of National Intelligence investigate the damage the crime did.

[T]he Court determines that a temporary injunction on the Government’s use of the seized materials for investigative purposes—but not ODNI’s national security assessment—is appropriate and equitable to uphold the value of the special master review.17

She doesn’t explain how that would work — how the government would (among other things) investigate any damage done by letting uncleared people move these boxes around — without continuing the investigation.

Edelstein: And in addition to the criminal investigation which is obviously a legitimate interest, as the Supreme Court has recognized, there is also the ongoing damage assessment by the intelligence community. This is not an effort that we just undertook. In fact, in that same May 10th letter that I referenced, there is an April communication to Plaintiff’s counsel that emphasizes that the materials had to be reviewed by the FBI in part so that it could coordinate an assessment of the damage that could have resulted from the improper storage of these materials. And if a special master was appointed at this point, that would — and the Government was not able to continue —

THE COURT: So would your position change, for example, if the special master were permitted to proceed without affecting the ODNI’s ongoing review for intelligence purposes but pausing temporarily any use of the documents in criminal investigation? So what I’m saying is no effect on the DNI review, which is ongoing and has been asserted as necessary for national security but then providing a temporary period of time, like I said, for orderly review of the documents seized?

MS. EDELSTEIN: It would not change.


BRATT: And I will tell the Court, you know, how it does slow down because in addition to the damage assessment that ODNI is doing, in any retention case, as we call these types of cases, in any illegal retention case under the Espionage Act, we also start looking at, all right, are these documents still classified? So there is a classification review. Classification is different from national defense information under the case law, okay. So even if it is classified, does it contain national defense information even if it is not classified? Does it not contain national defense information? As the Court is aware, we are dealing with over 300 records here. That process has begun. That process needs to continue.

If the Court says only ODNI can look at this for purposes of damage assessment, that is going to interfere with the investigation, and that’s something the Court, I think, has to enjoin us from doing.

Importantly, ODNI cannot do a damage assessment of all the documents stolen by Trump.

That’s because at least three of the classified documents are in the potentially privileged batch. Two are in box 4.

One — a Top Secret document — is in box 29.

The top Espionage experts in the government are investigating this. They will need to be part of any damage assessment. But by taking part in that discussion, they risk tainting the entire investigation because Aileen Cannon thinks that Trump’s privacy interest in a few MAGA hats and tax records his lawyers could have gotten back last week are more important than the 103 classified documents Trump stole.

Evan Corcoran Keeps Arguing that Evan Corcoran Didn’t Do a Diligent Search

There’s something weird about the argument that Trump’s lawyers — each time with the participation of Evan Corcoran — are making about the search of Mar-a-Lago. What they claim they’re up to is all over the map, and has evolved (for example, their first filing focused on Executive Privilege, but in last week’s hearing, Judge Aileen Cannon had to remind Trump lawyer Jim Trusty that’s what he was supposed to be arguing).

But their true goal, it seems, is to learn enough about what was taken so they can attempt to claw back certain materials that would incriminate Trump for reasons other than the sheafs of highly classified information that were stored in an insecure storage closet. It’s a two step process: Learn what was taken, so they can then argue that its seizure was a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment under what’s called a Rule 41(g) motion.

And to that end, the first filing argued that they need a more detailed inventory, describing what was seized and from where, so Donald Trump can make a Rule 41 motion claiming it was improperly seized.

Movant submits the current Receipt for Property is legally deficient. Accordingly, the Govemment should be required to provide a more detailed and informative Receipt For Property, which states exactly what was seized, and where it was located when seized. In addition, Movant requests that the Court provide him with a copy of the inventory. This, along with inspection of the full Affidavit, is the only way to ensure the President can properly evaluate and avail himself of the important protections of Rule 41. [my emphasis]

The second filing (which is where the Executive Privilege started to be dropped) repeated and expanded the request that Cannon order the government give Trump enough information so he can start clawing stuff back. In addition to falsely claiming his passports had been improperly seized, the filing admitted they couldn’t figure out what kind of harm the seizures would do without getting more details on what was seized.

Finally, this Court should exercise its equitable or anomalous jurisdiction over Movant’s request for the return of seized property and for a detailed receipt for property. This Court has written, “Where no criminal proceedings are pending, either because an indictment has not been filed or because a criminal prosecution has terminated, a petition pursuant to Rule 41(g) [of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure] has always been treated as a civil action in equity.” Bennett v. United States, No. 0:12-cv-61499, 2013 WL 3821625, at *11 (S.D. Fla. July 23, 2013); see also United States v. Dean, 80 F.3d 1535, 1542 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Federal courts have developed the doctrine of ‘equitable’ or ‘anomalous’ jurisdiction to enable them to take jurisdiction over property in order to adjudicate ‘actions for the return of unlawfully seized property even though no indictment has been returned and no criminal prosecution is yet in existence.’” (citation omitted)). Given that Movant’s request for a receipt for property is ancillary to the request for the return of improperly seized property, the Court’s equitable jurisdiction should extend to that request.


At the outset, because the Government has not produced an adequately detailed receipt for property, it is impossible for Movant to assess the full contents of the seized material. The Government has already confirmed that it improperly seized Movant’s passports (which were not listed on the Receipt for Property provided to Movant), and the Government’s continued custody of similar materials is both unnecessary and likely to cause significant harm to Movant. In addition, the return of property pursuant to Rule 41(g) is the only mechanism for Movant to secure wrongfully seized property, and he has no influence on whether later proceedings will enable him to seek such relief. [my emphasis]

At the hearing on Thursday, after Cannon had given Trump’s lawyers the more detailed inventory that shows that every single box that was seized had some official government documents inside, Jim Trusty complained — with Evan Corcoran sitting at a table beside him — that Trump’s lawyers would remain purposely blinded unless Judge Cannon ordered the government to let them inspect the actual documents themselves.

The next logical step would be to allow us to actually examine the documents and other items that were seized in this search.


MR. TRUSTY: Your Honor, I think the difficultly in completely jumping through that hoop for the Court in terms of the Richey factors is that we are still purposefully blinded from large swaths of information. What we see from our side of the aisle is a warrant that looks like a general warrant and could be subject to challenge under Rule 41.


The Court will probably recognize — I’m not asking for an opinion — that the warrant itself not only allows for gathering papers around their classified materials seizure, which again we even dispute whether it is classified or whether they are entitled to seize it or whether it is in the right paradigm, but boxes in the vicinity, documents in the vicinity. I mean, this was a colonial time search where the agents had discretion to take anything they want. And maybe they did, we are still trying to get through a legitimate inventory to figure that out. But there are significant substantial preliminary showings that this is a warrant that is suspect. And I can just tell the Court that our intention is to explore that, get the classifications through a special master and Your Honor that we can get, in terms of what the universe of items are, and pursue ideas like seeing the affidavit, maybe not for the general public, but at least for counsel to properly prepare for a Rule 41 and then litigating a Rule 41. This is what the rule is all about. It doesn’t matter whether it is a president or guy on street corner in Baltimore, they have that right to challenge this preliminarily.


We think the special master will be in a position to assess personal versus Presidential documents under the framework of the PRA and executive privilege. We think all of that is the type of thing it would be, I suspect, economical and make sense to be conducted along with the physical review of the documents to throw that to the special master, allow us to use that time. Ultimately, there may well be reasons to come back to this Court, but I think that’s an efficient model for getting to a bottom line of where we disagree and where we agree, if anywhere, when it comes to the classification of all of these seized materials.

Again, this is all part of a two-part goal to first learn what was seized and, once they learn that, to make an argument that its seizure irreparably harms Trump. While Jay Bratt is treating this effort as a Rule 41 motion, Trump’s lawyers, joined by Evan Corcoran, argue they won’t be in a position to make a Rule 41 argument unless they first get a detailed look at what was seized.

Which, as I said, is pretty nutty, because according to the government, Corcoran told Bratt (and three FBI agents) the following:

[C]ounsel for the former President represented that all the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location—a storage room at the Premises (hereinafter, the “Storage Room”), and the boxes of records in the Storage Room were “the remaining repository” of records from the White House. Counsel further represented that there were no other records stored in any private office space or other location at the Premises and that all available boxes were searched

And another of Trump’s lawyers, Christina Bobb, signed a declaration claiming the following:

Based upon the information that has been provided to me, I am authorized to certify, on behalf of the Office of Donald J. Trump, the following:

a. A diligent search was conducted of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Florida;

b. This search was conducted after receipt of the subpoena, in order to locate any and all documents that are responsive to the subpoena;

c. Any and all responsive documents accompany this certification; and

d. No copy, written notation, or reproduction of any kind was retained as to any responsive document.

As I noted yesterday, the government asked Beryl Howell to unseal the May 11 subpoena it served on Trump’s office so it could debunk several claims Trump had made in its filings. One they focused on, in particular, is Bobb’s claim that a diligent search “was conducted.” DOJ wanted to be able to argue that,

Contrary to [Bobb’s] assertion, when the FBI conducted its search of Mar-a-Lago on August 8, it found over one hundred total documents bearing classified markings, from both the storage room and the space FPOTUS uses as an office.”

I mean, it’s an important point and all. But at this point, they don’t even need to contrast the statements Trump’s lawyers made with the inventory seized.

They can just point to assertions — signed or joined by Evan Corcoran — stating that Trump’s lawyers, including Corcoran, have no fucking idea what was in those boxes and where they were stored. There is no way that Bobb’s claim that a diligent search was done and Corcoran’s claim that he knew all Presidential Records were stored in the storage room can be true and, at the same time, a team including Corcoran first needs to learn what’s in the boxes and where the boxes were stored before he can argue about the grave harm that has befallen Trump by seizing them.

All these claims that Trump’s legal team has no idea what’s in the boxes and where they were stored seems to be pretty compelling evidence that Trump’s lawyers’ claims to have actually searched these boxes were not true.

Beryl Howell Says the Surveillance Video Subpoena Was June 24, Not June 22

In the government’s response to Trump’s motion for a Special Master, it revealed that it had gotten Beryl Howell to unseal two subpoenas served on representatives of Trump. (Zoe Tillman first noted the unsealing.)

After Obtaining Evidence Indicating that Additional Classified Records
Remained at the Premises, DOJ Initially Sought Their Return Through the
Issuance of a Grand Jury Subpoena2

2 The former President disclosed this subpoena and a subpoena for video footage at the Premises in his filings to this Court. See, e.g., D.E. 1 at 5-6. Thereafter, on August 29, 2022, Chief Judge Howell in the District of Columbia authorized the government to disclose to this Court these grand jury subpoenas and material discussed herein.

Howell has now unsealed both the government’s emergency request for unsealing and her order granting it.

The government basically explained that they wanted to unseal the subpoenas because Trump lied about the circumstances of, at least, the May 11 subpoena.

[I]n light of the inaccurate or incomplete facts asserted in the SDFL Motion, and as discussed more fully below, the limited disclosure the Government is seeking here is “needed to avoid a possible injustice.”

The government request debunks two things we already knew to be untrue: Trump’s claim that he had conducted a diligent search, and his claim that when Jay Bratt and three FBI agents visited Mar-a-Lago, they were allowed to “inspect” the storage room. As DOJ describes, they “were allowed only a brief view of the storage room and were expressly told that they could not open any boxes to review their contents.”

But the government request emphasizes a third point that elaborates on their strategy behind the investigation: DOJ wrote the May 11 subpoena to cover all documents in Trump’s possession with classification marks, regardless of where they were and how they got there. The government addressed this twice. First, DOJ noted that it drafted the subpoena so as to prevent Trump from withholding documents based off a claim he had declassified the materials.

The government notes that the subpoena sought documents “bearing classification markings,” and therefore a complete response would not turn on whether or not responsive documents had been purportedly declassified.

The logic to that part of the subpoena was already obvious, to me at least. What I didn’t realize was that DOJ also specifically wrote the subpoena to cover any government document, regardless of whether it had been moved from the White House or got to Mar-a-Lago via some other path and regardless of whether it was still at MAL.

Although the SDFL Motion indicates that FPOTUS directed his staff to conduct a review of boxes moved “from the White House to Florida,” the subpoena was not so limited, instead seeking “[a]ny and all documents or writings in the custody or control of Donald J. Trump and/or the Office of Donald J. Trump bearing classification markings,” without limitation to where they were stored.

Obviously, DOJ had reason to make this emphasis, beyond just asking for documents with classified markings to avoid getting into a fight over whether Trump had declassified them. Possibly, they have reason to know that some of the documents have already left Mar-a-Lago — maybe they traveled with Trump to Bedminster when he left on June 3. Possibly, they want to avoid Trump claiming he can keep classified documents that he accessed for the first time as President while at Mar-a-Lago, which would otherwise effectively exempt any document that never got moved back to the White House from the subpoena. Or possibly, they have reason to believe that Trump obtained documents from other agencies of government — like the NSA — and brought them directly back to Mar-a-Lago without stopping at the White House.

DOJ’s emphasis that the subpoena covered all records, whether they had left Florida, whether they had come from the White House, had never been moved back to the White House, or came from other agencies is important because — as a slightly longer account of what Corcoran told Bratt on June 3 makes clear — Corcoran limited his own representations about remaining classified documents to those that had been moved from the White House. The bolded language did not appear in DOJ’s Response; the italicized language did, but appears more significant given DOJ’s comment.

[C]ounsel for FPOTUS stated that he had been advised that all records from the White House were stored in one location at Mar-a-Lago, a basement storage room, that the boxes in the storage room were the “remaining repository” of records from the White House, and he additionally represented to government personnel his understanding that there were no records in any other space at Mar-a-Lago.

The bolded language suggests that Corcoran may have been lied to, meaning he’d be a witness, but not a subject, in the investigation.

The filing doesn’t address another discrepancy between Trump’s public claims about the June 3 meeting and DOJ’s: Whether the Former President ever stopped in at the meeting. Trump claims he did.

President Trump greeted them in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago.

DOJ says only two Trump people were at the meeting: Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb.

In addition to counsel for the former President, another individual was also present as the custodian of records for the former President’s post-presidential office.

If Trump wasn’t present at the meeting, it’s possible Corcoran and Bobb pulled the meeting together for the first day that Trump would be gone to Bedminster, possibly even without telling him.

There’s one more detail about the June 3 meeting that’s may be new in the request for unsealing: According to Bratt and the FBI agents who got to glimpse into the storage room, there were around 50 to 55 boxes in the storage room.

[T]hey were explicitly prohibited from opening any of the approximately fifty to fifty-five boxes that they observed.

The inventories released so far suggest that the FBI searched at least 73 items in the storage room. While some of those items may have been bags of golf clubs or old furniture, this detail suggests as many as 18 boxes may have been moved back into the storage room after Bratt left, more than covering all the boxes that identified so far to have documents marked classified in them.

For all the new details about the May 11 subpoena, the request for unsealing reveals almost nothing about the second subpoena DOJ obtained. Indeed, there’s a  section that may address the subpoena that is entirely redacted.

Pages later, DOJ notes in footnotes 4 and 8 that Trump also revealed the existence of a surveillance subpoena and asks to disclose the existence of that too.

In none of the unsealed discussion of the surveillance video subpoena does DOJ mention its date.

Judge Howell does, though. In her authorization, she permits the government to disclose “another grand jury subpoena out of this district issued to the Trump Organization on June 24, 2022.”

That date is two days after the date Trump gave for the subpoena, both in anonymous sourcing to reporters and then in his motion for a Special Master.

In the days that followed, President Trump continued to assist the Government. For instance, members of his personal and household staff were made available for voluntary interviews by the FBI. On June 22, 2022, the Government sent a subpoena to the Custodian of Records for the Trump Organization seeking footage from surveillance cameras at Mar-a-Lago. At President Trump’s direction, service of that subpoena was voluntarily accepted, and responsive video footage was provided to the Government. [my emphasis]

It’s possible, but highly unlikely, that Howell got the date wrong. But because the government included this paragraph from Trump’s filing in its own request, Howell may have noted the discrepancy in the date.

It’s the kind of detail she tends to pick up.

If the date Trump is using is inaccurate, it may suggest several things. First, I noted here that Bruce Reinhart pointedly observed that no one who purports to own MAL had intervened. It’s the kind of comment one might make if one were aware that Trump played games with the ownership of MAL in an attempt to avoid service of a subpoena. That is, perhaps there is a June 22 subpoena, served on the Office of Donald J. Trump, and after he refused to respond, DOJ simply served a subpoena on Trump Organization, which has enough of its own legal problems right now it doesn’t need Trump to exacerbate them.

Or perhaps Trump was deliberately obscuring the real date, possibly to hide some tie between Kash Patel’s public claims on June 22 to have been made a Trump representative to the Archives and the subpoena.

In authorizing the release of the grand jury material, Howell emphasized the procedural nature of her decision. Because Trump’s request created another judicial proceeding, she could release the grand jury materials under FRCP 6(e)(3)(F). That requires that DOJ show a particularized need to unseal the material, which Howell describes as the need to “meaningfully [] respond” to Judge Aileen Cannon’s order.

Howell did not comment on two arguments DOJ made to get there: that an injustice might occur if Cannon ruled on the Special Master request based on a false understanding of events obtained from Trump’s lies to her and that there was no chance that revealing the subpoenas might harm someone who would later be exonerated, one of three reasons that would normally rule against unsealing grand jury materials.

But in revealing a different date for that second subpoena, June 24 as opposed to June 22, Howell may be pointing to another Trump lie.

Update: May 11, the date of the initial subpoena was a Wednesday. June 22, the date Trump claims he got the subpoena, is also a Wednesday, with June 24 a Friday. If Wednesday is the normal day for the grand jury, then maybe there were two subpoenas.