Barr’s candor in talking about the former president is not new. He has been an outspoken critic of Trump, and his testimony – dismissing the former president’s lies about the 2020 election – was widely featured in the first select committee hearings on Jan. 6. But his scathing comments on Friday, bolstered by his expertise as a former attorney general, come as further details surface about the nature of the records recovered.
Friday’s unsealed court filing showed documents bearing highly classified marks were mixed in boxes with items such as books and clothing. The FBI also recovered 48 empty folders with “classified” banners.
Barr’s remarks also come after a federal judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., heard arguments from the DOJ and Trump’s legal team regarding potential limitations on the department’s access to documents obtained during the search for Mar-a-Lago. U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon ordered the list released as she mulls a decision on whether to respond to Trump’s legal team’s request for a so-called special master to review government records seized for anything that might fall under executive privilege.
Barr called “the whole idea of a special master a red herring” and a “waste of time”. He said the only documents his legal team might want to isolate the government from are those related to his “communications with a private attorney, him as an individual and his outside attorneys.” He added that there “doesn’t seem to be a lot of this material”.
“What people are missing – all the other documents seized, even if they claim to be executive privilege, either belong to the government because they are government documents. Even though they are classified, even though they are subject to executive privilege, they still belong to the government and go to the archives. And all the other documents that were seized, like the press clippings and other things in the boxes containing the classified information, those were seizable under the warrant because they show the conditions under which the classified information was held.
Christopher Kise, one of two Trump attorneys handling arguments for an independent review, told POLITICO that appointing a special master is “not at all” a “waste of time.”
An independent review of the material could “give the American people greater confidence in the integrity of the process,” Kise said.
The Justice Department, for stepping up the investigation at this point, “probably has pretty good evidence” of obstruction, Barr added.
He called Trump’s withholding of documents “stupid” and “inexplicable,” while doubting the Justice Department would move forward with charges of withholding only classified documents.
“Given the fact that this is a former president, given the state of the nation, and given the fact that the government has retrieved his documents, does it really make sense to bring a case through caution ? And that’s a question that I think will be about the clarity of evidence of obstruction or deception. If they clearly have the president moving stuff around and hiding stuff in his office and telling people to fake it with the government – they may be inclined to take the case.
Kise partly echoed Barr’s sentiment regarding the department’s willingness to press charges against a former president for alleged withholding of documents.
“In these circumstances, no, it doesn’t make sense in terms of prudential judgment. We’re talking about an extraordinary step here: indicting a former president for handling information he had a full right to access first. place,” Kise said.