Trump's former AG Bill Barr: 'No justification' for Trump to retain classified documents

Former Attorney General Bill Barr said Donald Trump faces potentially 'serious' jeopardy over the documents recovered at Mar-a-Lago.

  • The Justice Department is investigating classified documents found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.
  • New documents unsealed Friday showed classified documents mingled with magazines and clothes.
  • Bill Barr was once one of Trump's defenders, but has broken with him after leaving office.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr, once one of Donald Trump's most valued defenders, continued to distance himself from the former president Friday, saying that his former boss had "no justification" to retain the trove of classified documents seized from his Florida beach club.

Barr, who famously broke with Trump in the final weeks of the administration when he declared that federal authorities had found no substantial evidence of fraud in the 2020 election, also said the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the handling of classified documents poses potentially "serious" jeopardy for the former president.

"I think it's a serious matter," Barr said in an interview with USA TODAY.

Barr first expressed his concerns for Trump's handling of the documents in an earlier interview with Fox News.

Classified documents, magazines and clothes:Classified documents were mingled with magazines and clothes at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club

U.S. Attorney General William Barr announces a new Crime Reduction Initiative aimed at Detroit on December 18, 2019.

"I can’t think of a legitimate reason why they should have been – could be taken out of government, away from the government if they are classified,” he told the network.

While Trump has claimed that the materials seized by FBI agents in an Aug. 8 search of the Mar-a-Lago beach club had been previously declassified, Barr told USA TODAY that such an explanation was very unlikely.

"I don't believe he did," Barr said.

"If he did attempt some indiscriminate act of declassification, that would be more reckless than just taking the documents," he said. "It just didn't happen."

In the Fox interview, Barr called Trump's request for the appointment of a third-party special master to oversee federal investigators' review of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago a "red herring" and "waste of time."

Read the full list of documents recovered at Mar-a-Lago:What was found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago? Read the list detailing what FBI agents recovered.

Members of the Secret Service, including Tony Ornato, right, stand guard as then-President Donald Trump, left, speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington before departing, Sept. 9, 2019.

Barr said that the only documents taken from Trump's Florida property that would need to be shielded from the government are the one's that pertain to Trump's private lawyer communications.

"If there's stuff like that, fine – identify it," Barr said. "There doesn't appear to be much of it. I'm not sure you need a special master to identify it. 

"What people are missing is that all the other documents taken, even if they claim to be executive privilege, either belong to the government because they're government records – even if they're classified, even if they're subject to executive privileges – they still belong to the government and go to the archives," he told the network. 

Mar-a-Lago in Florida

A federal judge continued to weigh Trump's request for the appointment of a third party document screener, as a more detailed accounting of the government's seizures during the search was unsealed Friday.

The government's inventory revealed that about 100 classified documents were haphazardly mingled in boxes with magazines, unrelated photographs and articles of clothing.

Who is Trump's lawyer Christina Bobb?:How Trump lawyer Christina Bobb, an ex-OAN host, took spotlight in Mar-a-Lago case

Aside from the classified materials, the list appears to show the chaotic nature in which thousands of documents were kept.

Had Trump intended to sort and return property that did not belong to him after his return to Mar-a-Lago, it could have been considered "no harm, no foul," Barr told USA TODAY.

"But it becomes more of a problem when he gets a subpoena, obligating him to return the classified information in his possession," Barr said, referring to a grand jury subpoena issued in May demanding the production of the records.

In June, Trump's lawyers produced some documents to federal investigators and certified that all relevant records had been turned over.

Prosecutors cited the prior certification this week in a scathing assessment of how the records were handled, asserting that the Trump team likely concealed and moved the remaining documents to obstruct the government's investigation.    

Meet Trump's cast of record keepers:The group has taken on significance amid the Mar-a-Lago document investigation

This image, contained in a court filing by the Department of Justice and redacted in part by the FBI, shows a photo of documents seized during the search on Aug. 8, 2022, by the FBI of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

"That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter," Justice officials stated in court documents earlier

Earlier this year, Barr also provided damning testimony about Trump's efforts to push false information about election fraud to a special House committee investigating the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021. 

“Right out of the box on election night, the president claimed that there was major fraud underway,” Barr said in videotaped testimony before the committee. “I mean, as far as I could tell, before there was actually any potential evidence."

 After the election, the Department of Justice received an “avalanche of allegations of fraud,” all of which Barr said were “completely bogus and silly and based on misinformation.”

What to make of that Mar-a-Lago evidence photo:What Trump Mar-a-Lago photo shows vs. what we know about handling classified documents