Constitutional attorney Jonathan Turley wrote that a recently released FBI photograph of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago could be “deceptive.”
The image shows six documents marked “top secret” and other documents marked “secret” apparently seized from Trump’s Florida residence during an FBI raid in early August. It was included at the bottom of the government document in response to Trump’s motion to find a dedicated craftsman or neutral third party to review files with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“Many could see a picture of classified documents scattered across the floor when this appears to be a method used by the FBI to isolate classified documents. It also seems completely redundant to publish this photo alone,” Turley. wrote Wednesday.
Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, said the Justice Department’s decision to include the photo is unusual and could easily be taken out of context.
“It is curious that the Department of Justice released this particular photograph, which shows classified materials lying on the floor,” the legal scholar said. “The point is to state a fact that hardly needs optical confirmation: the existence of documents with secret title pages. Indeed, the upper part of about half of the documents in the photo is edited. The government could have simply affirmed the closure of the pages and would hardly have been challenged on this without the inclusion of this single photograph.”
Turley then suggested that the publication of the photograph followed a pattern of “exaggerated claims” being made about the case and the FBI raid, and “might seem” “another attempt (given previous leaks) to help create public optics and discussion.”
“Obviously, the court did not need a visual aid in the form of a photograph of documents with covers. It appears to be clearly intended for public consumption,” said Turley, who was called by Republicans as an expert witness during the House’s first impeachment inquiry into Trump in late 2019.
In the latest document, the prosecutor’s office showed that more than 100 unique documents were seized during the search, which were allegedly classified.
“Some of the documents had colored title pages indicating their secrecy stamp,” the prosecutor’s office said, referring to the aforementioned photograph. “Levels of secrecy ranged from CONFIDENTIAL to TOP SECRET, and some documents included additional classified sections, meaning very limited distribution.”
Earlier in August, Trump filed a motion to ask a special craftsman or a neutral third party to examine the documents. Justice Department lawyers, however, said officials had already conducted a preliminary review of materials that were taken from Trump’s home, and they said in a motion released last week that some confidential lawyer and client material may have been seized.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department also wrote that Trump officials blocked the FBI from accessing documents at the Mar-a-Lago vault after they were given classified material earlier this year.
“As stated in the documents of the former president, FBI agents and the prosecutor of the Department of Justice were allowed to visit the warehouse. See DE 1 at 5-6. Significantly, however, an adviser to the former president expressly forbade civil servants from opening or looking inside any of the boxes left in the vault, making it impossible for the government to confirm that no stamped documents were left,” prosecutors wrote.
Responding to claims that these materials were classified, Trump said he declassified many documents while in office. At least one of his former White House aides, Kash Patel, said he witnessed Trump order the declassification.