The independent arbiter in charge of reviewing the records found during an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Florida home said on Tuesday that he intended to move swiftly through the review procedure and expressed skepticism toward the Trump campaign’s refusal to state whether it believed the records had been declassified.
In their first meeting since his appointment as a “so-called special master” last week, Raymond Dearie, a senior Brooklyn judge, told attorneys for Trump and the Justice Department, “We’re going to proceed with what I call reasonable dispatch.”
The meeting’s goal was to determine the following stages in a review process that was anticipated to drag on for weeks or even months as a result of the criminal probe into the storage of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago after Trump departed the White House. Dearie will be in charge of sorting through the tens of thousands of papers found during the FBI search on August 8 and separating any that may be shielded by assertions of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.
Dearie has requested more information about whether the seized records had previously been declassified, as Trump has claimed. Despite the fact that Trump’s attorneys had asked for the appointment of a special master to ensure an impartial review of the documents, they have resisted Dearie’s request. Even as they claimed in a separate filing on Tuesday that the Justice Department had not established that the records were classified, his attorneys have consistently refrained from making that argument. They assert that the president has unrestricted power to declassify information in any case.
According to one of Trump’s attorneys, James Trusty, “in the case of someone who has been president of the United States, they have unlimited access along with unfettered declassification ability.”
However, Dearie stated that he would be inclined to see the data as classified if Trump’s attorneys do not genuinely claim that they have been declassified and the Justice Department instead makes a strong case that they have not.
That’s it, he declared, “as far as I’m concerned.”
The lawyers suggested that the declassification problem might be part of Trump’s defense in the event of an indictment in a letter to Dearie on Monday night. And on Tuesday, Trusty argued in court that the Trump campaign should not be required, at this stage of the investigation, to provide specifics about a potential defense based on the presumption that the information had been declassified.
He refuted claims that the attorneys were attempting to act in a “gamesmanlike” manner and insisted that it was a process that called for “baby stages.” He claimed that whenever Trump advances with a claim to recover any seized property, it is the appropriate time for the discussion.
Dearie acknowledged that he recognized the argument but added, “I think my take on it is, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
Because Trump’s attorneys, and not the Justice Department, had asked for the appointment of a special master, the judge’s request was met with noteworthy pushback, which included an admission that the investigation might be progressing toward an indictment.
The three statutes the Justice Department named on a warrant as part of its inquiry do not require that the mismanaged material be classified in order for prosecutors to begin a criminal prosecution, despite the focus on whether the seized papers are classified.
The Trump campaign has also questioned the viability of a few of the special master’s review deadlines. Examining the approximately 11,000 documents that were taken during the FBI’s search, including about 100 that were classified, is part of that job.
Trump appointed U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who granted the Trump team’s request for a special master, had given Dearie until Nov. 30 to complete his review and instructed him to give priority to the batch of classified documents.
Dearie, a Reagan appointee whose name is on the atrium of his Brooklyn courtroom, stated during the conference on Tuesday that he intended to meet the deadlines and that there was “limited time” to finish the chores.
Justice Government attorney Julie Edelstein expressed optimism that the department may have the materials digitalized and given to Trump’s attorneys by early next week. She mentioned that the department had provided the legal team with a list of five companies that the government had authorized to scan, host, and otherwise process the documents that had been seized.
Dearie told Trusty’s attorneys to select a vendor by Friday after some haggling.
The Trump legal team requested earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit maintain Cannon’s order, temporarily prohibiting the Justice Department from using the classified records for its criminal investigation while Dearie is still conducting his review. The department also disputes Cannon’s demand that it gives Dearie access to classified information for his study, arguing that such data are not protected by any claims of executive or attorney-client privilege.
The department has also claimed that its investigation has been hampered by Cannon’s decision.
In a response on Tuesday, Trump’s attorneys said those worries were exaggerated and that investigators could still move forward with the investigation even if they did not review the materials that had been seized.
In the end, any brief holdup in the criminal probe won’t affect the government permanently, according to the lawyers for Trump. The injunction just pauses the investigation while an unbiased third party examines the relevant papers; it does not prevent the government from commencing a criminal probe.