Chris Kise, the well-connected former Florida solicitor general, became the head of former President Donald Trump’s legal team last month. Kise has attempted to take a conciliatory stance in challenging the Justice Department’s investigation into handling highly sensitive documents at Mar-a-Lago, but he is up against strong headwinds.
According to those acquainted with his tactics, he hopes to settle the issue without the government pursuing criminal charges. The cards are stacked against him, and Trump is a client who relishes a fight over compromise. Additionally, the Justice Department has said its investigation has escalated due to potential criminal activity it can’t easily ignore. Namely, classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago months after Mr. Trump’s allies said they had provided all to the FBI. Moreover, some documents appeared to have been moved deliberately.
Ty Cobb, who served as a special White House counsel for Mr. Trump in 2017 and 2018, stated that the former president’s inclination to rant against prosecutors hinders the job of his attorneys. The trouble for Trump’s attorneys is that he lacks discipline. Cobb stated that as soon as Trump goes to one of his rallies, he will proclaim its “Big Lie” and how the Constitution is “being dismantled” to attack him.
Mr. Kise’s team and prosecutors submitted a joint brief to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Friday night in response to her request for candidates for the role of a special master. The independent arbitrator she will appoint to separate potentially privileged material from documents retrieved during the raid on Mar-a-Lago. Who that person should be, what constitutes privileged material, how long the vetting should take, and who should pay for it were points of contention between the parties.
The move portends an unrelenting legal battle, something Mr. Kise was keen to avoid when he initially defended Mr. Trump before Judge Cannon in Florida on September 1. He stated that the temperatures need to be lowered on both sides.
Mr. Trump criticized the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago resort at length during a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, two days later. Mr. Trump stated that the FBI had violated his “rights and civil freedoms” and that its search on August 8 would result in a “backlash” never before seen.
Trump stated that the FBI and Justice Department have been taken over by extreme left-wing scoundrels and have become savage monsters. Save America, Mr. Trump’s political action group, launched new fundraising efforts centered on the search, resulting in a substantial surge in donations.
Mr. Trump’s advisers reached out to Mr. Kise last month. His legal expertise — he won four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, made him attractive to Trump’s advisers. Kise also has experience with the Florida courts and his history of managing political circumstances, according to individuals familiar with the discussions. He has worked with the three most recent Florida governors. The former president and attorney recently met at Mr. Trump’s Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, where Mr. Kise, 57, accepted the case.
By then, the Trump team and the federal government had reviewed the materials repeatedly. In January, 15 cartons were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago after the National Archives and Records Administration had sought their return for months. NARA personnel discovered that 14 of the boxes contained a total of 184 papers tagged confidential, secret, or top secret increased the level of worry.
In May, a grand jury subpoena resulted in the delivery of more records, which the Justice Department claimed contained 38 additional classified documents. When this data was turned over at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s attorney Christina Bobb signed a declaration stating that all secret materials were now in government hands to the best of her knowledge.
Less than two months later, in an affidavit that has since been disclosed with extensive redactions, the government stated evidence that unsecured secret data remained at Mar-a-Lago. A search warrant was executed at Trump’s Florida residence on August 8, which yielded hundreds of sensitive pages of further information.
The Justice Department expressed its opposition to the appointment of a special master in an August 30 filing. The fact that the FBI, in a matter of hours, was able to recover twice as many classified documents as the ‘diligent search’ conducted by the former president’s counsel and other representatives over several weeks makes one question what was represented in the June 3 certification and whether or not there was any cooperation with the investigation.
Two days later, in Judge Cannon’s courtroom, Mr. Kise minimized the significance of any improper handling of the materials.
He added that this is not a Department of Defense employee slipping off in the middle of the night with a paper bag full of military secrets. As previously stated, the 45th president of the United States has presidential records.
In her judgment granting a special master, Judge Cannon, a 41-year-old former federal prosecutor appointed to the court by Mr. Trump in 2020, was receptive to Mr. Trump’s team’s arguments, according to legal experts, most of whom opposed her decision.
Mr. Kise declined to explain the method but stated that the objective is to find a sensible answer to document storage difficulties that have gotten out of hand.
Professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, Jessica Levinson, stated that it would be difficult to reach an agreement in which the government renounces any criminal prosecution.
According to sources familiar with the case, the Justice Department’s first objective, which it has already accomplished, was to secure secret materials housed in unsafe conditions at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors stated in a document dated August 30 that they were investigating possible breaches of the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice, and “unlawful concealing or removal of government records.”
The Justice Department likewise views the matter as one of principle. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated on August 11, under pressure to justify the search at a past president’s mansion, that upholding the rule of law means administering the law equitably, without fear or favor. Under his leadership, the Justice Department is doing just that.
The issue has been a political boost for Mr. Trump’s team. After the FBI investigation, Mr. Trump’s support among Republicans increased as he signaled another presidential bid and tried to push back younger party leaders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. In the most recent survey by the Wall Street Journal, four out of five Republican respondents agreed with a statement indicating the search was part of a “witch hunt.” In contrast, approximately one-third of independents and five percent of Democrats agreed.
Some of Mr. Trump’s associates concede that his political advantages make him a more difficult client for a lawyer attempting to settle a case.
Last month, several attorneys contacted by his team refused the position because they did not feel he would heed their advice and because he has a history of not paying some of his legal fees.
Mr. Cobb noted that Mr. Trump’s court pleadings had recently gotten more sophisticated. Under Kise, the idea that he could declassify anything by simply waving his hand over it has become more polished, the former White House special counsel said. He is an intelligent and skilled appellate attorney.