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Special Master in Trump Document Investigation Signals Intent to Act Quickly

The independent arbitrator in charge of inspecting the documents seized in a FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s home in Florida he said Tuesday that he intends to move the review process quickly and was skeptical of the Trump team’s reluctance to say whether it believed the records had been declassified.

“We are going to proceed with what I call responsible law enforcement,” Raymond Dearie, a veteran judge from Brooklyn, told lawyers for Trump and the Justice Department in their first meeting since his appointment last week as the so-called special master.

The purpose of the meeting was to work out the next steps in a review process that is expected to delay by weeks, if not months, the criminal investigation into the withholding of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. . As special master, Dearie will be responsible for reviewing the thousands of documents recovered during the FBI’s August 8 search and segregating those protected by claims of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

Although Trump’s lawyers had requested the appointment of a special master to ensure an independent review of the documents, one of the former president’s lawyers, James Trusty, made it clear that they were concerned that Dearie’s proposed timelines were too ambitious.

Lawyers are also resisting Dearie’s request for information on whether the seized records had been declassified, as Trump has maintained. in a letter to dearie on Monday night, lawyers said that issue could be part of Trump’s defense in the event of an indictment.

But Dearie seemed dissatisfied with that position. He said that if Trump’s lawyers don’t actually claim the records have been declassified and the Justice Department instead makes an acceptable case that they remain classified, then “as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it.”

A sketch shows Judge Raymond Dearie and attorneys from the Justice Department and former President Donald Trump in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday, September 20, 2022.

jane rosenberg

Trusty said the Trump team should not be forced at this time to reveal a possible defense based on the idea that the records had been declassified. He denied that the lawyers were trying to play a “game”, but instead believed it was a process that required “baby steps”.

But Dearie at one point observed, “I guess my point of view is that you can’t have your cake and eat it” too.

Trump has maintained without evidence that all the records were declassified; His lawyers have not echoed that claim, although they have repeatedly asserted that a president has absolute authority to declassify information, saying in a separate presentation tuesday that the Justice Department had not proven that the records remained classified.

“As someone who has been president of the United States, you have unrestricted access along with unrestricted declassification authority,” Trusty said Tuesday.

The resistance to the judge’s request was notable because it was Trump’s lawyers, not the Justice Department, that called for the appointment of a special master and because the reluctance included an acknowledgment that the investigation could be moving toward an indictment.

In the letter, Trump’s lawyers said the time to address that issue would be if they went ahead with demands that the Justice Department return some of the stolen Mar-a-Lago property.

“Otherwise, the Special Master process will have compelled Plaintiff to fully and specifically disclose a defense on the merits of any subsequent prosecution,” they wrote.

Trump’s team also asked the judge to consider delaying all timelines for review. That work includes the inspection of approximately 11,000 documents, including about 100 marked classified, that were seized during the FBI search.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who granted Trump’s team’s request for a special teacher, set a November 30 deadline for Dearie’s review, directing her to prioritize her inspection of classified records. The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court to stay Cannon’s order requiring him to provide classified documents for her review. That appeal is pending.

Dearie, a Ronald Reagan appointee whose name is on the atrium of his Brooklyn courthouse, made it clear during Tuesday’s meeting that he intended to meet deadlines, saying there was “little time” to complete assigned tasks.

Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the Justice Department, said she was hopeful the department could digitize the documents and deliver them to Trump’s lawyers early next week. She noted that the department had provided the legal team with a list of five government-approved vendors for the purpose of scanning, hosting and processing the seized records.

After some haggling, Dearie instructed Trump’s lawyers to pick a vendor before Friday.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump’s legal team urged The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to leave in place Cannon’s order temporarily prohibiting the Justice Department from using the classified records for its criminal investigation while Dearie completes her review. The department has said the order has impeded its investigation into the presence of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s lawyers called those concerns overblown and said investigators could still do other work on the investigation even without examining the seized records.

“Ultimately, any brief delay in the criminal investigation will not irreparably harm the Government,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “The court order does not prevent the government from conducting a criminal investigation, it simply delays the investigation for a short period while a neutral third party reviews the documents in question.”

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