8/8/22: The FBI executes a search warrant and seizes many documents from Trump's resort.

8/22/22: Trump's legal team files a suit asking for the DOJ to be enjoined from investigating the documents

9/5/22: The court grants Trump's request

For nearly a month, the FBI/DOJ had no legal restriction in looking at what they seized (notwithstanding any self-imposed internal filtering team). Presumably the documents in question weren't the only copies.


  • Is the FBI allowed to look at the originals/backups?

  • Do the agents who saw the documents before the order have to pretend like they don't remember anything and/or quarantine their notes or is that fair game?

  • If the FBI openly defies the order and continues to investigate what would the recourse be?

    • Does the evidence become inadmissible even if the special master eventually determines there was no priviledge?
    • Do individual agents get cited for criminal contempt but no change in Trump's case?
  • If the FBI surreptitiously defies the order and continues to investigate how would it be discovered?

    • Couldn't they say that the fruits of those investigations happened during the period they were allowed to be investigating?
  • If the FBI/DOJ strictly adheres to the letter and intent of the order, what's to stop Trump's team from eventually accusing them of having violated the order?

    • One scenario might be that on 9/1 they made an appointment to interview someone on 9/10. Trump's team says "See they violated the no investigation order". This, of course, circles back to the second question.

1 Answer 1


The order is here. The pertinent part is that

The Government is TEMPORARILY ENJOINED from further review and use of any of the materials seized from Plaintiff’s residence on August 8, 2022, for criminal investigative purposes pending resolution of the special master’s review process as determined by this Court. The Government may continue to review and use the materials seized for purposes of intelligence classification and national security assessments.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is allowed to continue the classification review and intelligence assessment, which does not involve the FBI.

Therefore, the FBI and the Department of Justice cannot review, read, or look at said documents, whether as original documents, paper copies, or scanned images. The order does not address mental states, it only addresses actions, so there is no requirement to "pretend" anything. For the moment, the government cannot make use of the documents. It could be pointless to violate the court's order, except another judge could make a contrary ruling, so if it turns out that Cannon's order was a major legal error, there might not be any negative consequences to disobedience.

If the DoJ obeys the order, there is nothing that prevents "Trump's team" from making accusations. The fine line that they would have to navigate is "defamation" – if somebody makes a completely false claim that a specific person violated the law by some action, and the claimant had willful disregard for the falsity of the claim, that could be defamatory. Your example of an accusation wouldn't be defamatory, but you could cook up a defamatory claim that could be actionable.

  • Could you expound on why the quoted paragraph includes the originals? It literally says "materials seized". To my reading that means the physical pieces of paper. I could understand if they couldn't use copies they made in between seizure and injunction. If they're not allowed to look at what they have, how can they know what of their own preexisting records are copies or not? Sep 21, 2022 at 18:20
  • When you say "The order does not address [...] cannot make use of the documents", it's unclear the result. If an agent discovered a lead before the injunction but didn't have a chance to act on it until after the injunction, does their memory of what they saw count as making use of the documents? Sep 21, 2022 at 18:25

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