Trump’s legal team resists request to detail if he declassified 300 documents found at Mar-a-Lago

Trump’s legal team resists request to detail if he declassified 300 documents found at Mar-a-Lago in tussle with special master ‘they picked because he is critical of the FBI’

  • Judge Raymond Dearie has been named ‘special master’ by Trump-appointed judge Aileen Cannon 
  • He was one of two names put forward by Trump’s team, and DOJ did not object
  • The judge has asked the Trump team to provide information about declassification
  • Trump lawyers said they don’t want to reveal a possible ‘defense’

A court-appointed ‘special master’ tasked with reviewing classified seized at Mar-a-Lago who was recommended by Donald Trump‘s legal team has pressed Trump to reveal information about whether the president declassified the documents as he claims he did.

A letter from Trump’s team to Judge Raymond Dearie – one of two names they forwarded to a Florida judge who ruled in their favor on getting a special master – reveals that Judge Dearie asked them to ‘disclose specific information regarding declassification to the Court and to the Government.’

That is a place Trump’s legal team does not want to go at this point. Trump’s team of lawyers has declined in legal filings to make the claim that Trump declassified that material, although Trump has said publicly that he did. 

In its filings, including one made Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers continue to refer only to ‘classified records’ – suggesting they might not, indeed, be saying so, without stating so explicitly. 

In a stunning statement, the team argued against the Judge’s request, saying they don’t want to be forced to ‘fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident in the District Court’s order.’

Raymond Dearie, a veteran New York judge, has been appointed as special master to oversee the Mar-a-Lago investigation. The Trump Team listed him as among two recommendations for the post. According to a report, they believed he was a skeptic of the FBI

Raymond Dearie, a veteran New York judge, has been appointed as special master to oversee the Mar-a-Lago investigation. The Trump Team listed him as among two recommendations for the post. According to a report, they believed he was a skeptic of the FBI

That raises at least the possibility that they may want to use the declassification argument as a criminal defense should Trump be charged with improper possession of national security information after he left office.

It also raises the possibility that Trump’s decision to get a special master – a move the government vigorously opposed saying it could harm national security interests by delaying an investigation – could backfire.

The Trump team also pushed back on the timeline, ‘respectfully’ suggesting that the ‘deadlines be extended,’ in a process that will go at least through November as Dearie sorts through some 11,000 documents to determine which ones Trump’s team is able to keep away from investigators. 

It was the first signal of how Dearie, a Reagan appointee who has been on the bench for decades, would act. Lawyers from both sides were set to face off inside the Brooklyn judge’s courtroom Tuesday. 

Dearie will be looking for documents subject to attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, after Judge Cannon rejected the government’s argument that a former president couldn’t make such a claim. 

Documents seized during the search of Trump's estate on August 8 are pictured on August 30. Trump's lawyers have declined to say in legal filings whether Trump had ordered them declassified while he was in office and had the authority

Documents seized during the search of Trump’s estate on August 8 are pictured on August 30. Trump’s lawyers have declined to say in legal filings whether Trump had ordered them declassified while he was in office and had the authority

It comes after Axios reported two days ago that Dearie’s role in the FBI surveillance of former Trump associate Carter Page – Dearie signed off on the warrant – had made him a ‘deep skeptic’ of the FBI. 

Trump has long fumed about the surveillance at the start of the Russia probe, and called it part of a ‘witch hunt’ against him.

Dearie served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for seven years. But the report did not cite any statements in the public record where Dearie was critical of the FBI.

Trump railed against the agency after a team of FBI agents swooped down on Mar-a-Lago August 8, when Trump was not present.

National Archives officials determined there were 150 documents marked classified in the first 15 boxes of material returned by Trump in January.

Justice Department officials retrieved more documents in June, and following the FBI raid it obtained about 100 more, for a total of about 300 documents marked classified.

The government on Monday provided Judge Dearie with a proposed agenda for their first meeting, as well as some of the mechanics of how the special master will review documents – even as the government appeals Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling that gave the special master authority to sort through boxes of documents seized at Mar-a-Lago in the FBI’s August 8 raid.

The government would provide seized documents to a vendor, who would scan them into a single file under the observation of the FBI. 

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