Trump claims classified documents automatically became his property by taking them to Mar-a-Lago
Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago (Photo by Jimm Watson for AFP)

Donald Trump's attorneys argued this week that he automatically designated government documents as personal property just by taking them to his home at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president's defense team filed a new legal brief arguing that he was authorized to designate those records as his own property because he was still in office at the time, and they insisted that his designation cannot be challenged in court.

The Justice Department disagreed, saying Trump was playing a "shell game" with the presidential records and trying to have it both ways.

"Neither Judicial Watch nor the text of the [Presidential Records Act] gives Plaintiff the ability to ignore the statute by removing Presidential records from the White House," the DOJ responded in its own filing.

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When agents searched the Mar-a-Lago resort on August 8, they found material so sensitive that "even the FBI counterintelligence personnel and DOJ attorneys conducting the review required additional clearances before they were permitted to review certain documents," a government court filing from earlier this year said.

The FBI raid came after a review of "highly classified" records that Trump finally surrendered to authorities in January after months of back and forth with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The 15 boxes handed over by Trump were found to contain 184 documents marked as confidential, secret or top secret.

After prompting from the FBI, Trump's lawyer eventually turned over an additional 38 classified documents -- and provided "sworn certification" that they represented the last of the material.

But the FBI went on to uncover "multiple sources of evidence" showing classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago.

With additional reporting by AFP

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