A federal judge on Thursday sharply rejected an effort by Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO, to reclaim a cellphone seized by the FBI in September.
U.S. District Court Judge Eric Tostrud ruled that the Justice Department had easily justified the seizure of Lindell’s phone in connection with an investigation into a breach of Colorado voting systems after the 2020 election.
Lindell has been a longtime ally in former President Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the election and lodge discredited claims of widespread fraud. He has not been charged with any crimes connected to the effort.
Tostrud, a Trump appointee based in St. Paul, Minn., also denied an effort by Lindell to access the affidavit justifying the seizure.
He described the affidavit as “extensive,” totaling 80 pages, and said it included identities of confidential informants and cooperating witnesses, as well as details of “recorded communications.”
The judge said the exposure of sensitive details in the sealed submissions could interfere with the probe being conducted by Washington-based prosecutors and the FBI.
“Premature disclosure of these materials would significantly undermine the Government’s ongoing criminal investigation, giving Plaintiffs (and potentially, other targets of the investigation) a window into the Government’s investigation that could compromise the investigation as a whole,” Tostrud wrote in his 36-page order.
The judge also said there would be no practical way to provide a redacted version to Lindell.
Lindell disclosed the seizure of his phone shortly after it occurred, confirming that agents confronted him at a Hardee’s drive-through in Mankato, Minn. He subsequently disclosed the details of the search warrant, which agents furnished to him after seizing his phone and questioning him.
Lindell has alleged that the seizure violated his constitutional rights and that he was entitled to review the FBI’s justification, as well as to enjoin the government from using it to further its criminal probe. But Tostrud said Lindell had fallen far short of providing any justification for taking the drastic steps.
Rather, he said, if Lindell were indicted, he would have an opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of the warrant or seizure — not before.
“Against Plaintiffs’ unsupported allegations of constitutional violations and conclusory assertions of harm, the Government has a significant interest in effective law enforcement and prompt resolution of criminal matters,” Tostrud ruled. “These interests would be harmed significantly, and criminal investigations and proceedings would be delayed, if litigants were allowed to use civil litigation to collaterally attack ongoing criminal investigations and proceedings.”
Tostrud also rejected Lindell’s claim that he has been harmed by losing access to his cellphone, noting that Lindell had confirmed he backed up all of his phone’s data to his iCloud account just days before the seizure.
In September, Tostrud denied Lindell’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have barred investigators from examining his phone as his lawsuit proceeded. The judge said at that time that Lindell’s right to relief was “not obvious.”
In a footnote, Tostrud also appeared to offer a veiled brushback to a judge’s decision in another high-profile search — the FBI’s court-authorized seizure of records from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
“[T]here is ‘a sound and well-established principle that a court should not exercise its equitable powers to interfere with or enjoin an ongoing criminal investigation when the defendant will have the opportunity to challenge any defects in the prosecution in the trial court or on direct appeal,’” Tostrud wrote, quoting from an appeals court ruling that reversed aspects of U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling temporarily blocking investigators from access to records seized from Trump’s Florida home in August.
Rather, Tostrud said, the time for challenges to criminal processes is after an indictment is issued. Notably, Cannon took the precise approach Tostrud decried to block the Justice Department’s criminal probe of the retention of highly sensitive national security documents at Trump’s estate. The department is currently appealing her ruling and won earlier rounds of litigation at the appeals level.