Special master asks Trump lawyers if he declassified records during FBI search


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NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) – The U.S. judge appointed to review documents seized last month by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida home on Tuesday cast doubt on the former president’s claim that he should not not yet examine whether the files were classified or not.

In his first public hearing since his appointment as special master, Judge Raymond Dearie — acting as an independent arbiter, or special master, to check the documents — asked Trump’s lawyers if they had any evidence to back them up. show that Trump had declassified the files.

Trump is under investigation for keeping government records, some marked as highly classified, at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, his home after leaving office in January 2021. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and said without providing evidence that the investigation was a partisan attack.

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Trump claimed in social media posts that he had declassified the records, but his attorneys made no such statement in the court filings.

‘You’ve sued,’ Dearie told Trump’s lawyer, James Trusty, after Trusty said the lawyers were ‘not in a position’ to say the former president had declassified the documents. until they can review the records first.

Dearie, a senior federal judge in Brooklyn, will help decide which of more than 11,000 documents seized in the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago should be hidden from the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the handling of documents by the former president.

Dearie will recommend to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over the fight for access to seized documents, which records may fall under solicitor-client privilege or an assertion of executive privilege, which allows a president to withhold certain documents or information.

Tuesday’s hearing came a day after Dearie circulated a draft plan to the two sides on Monday, which requested details of the documents Trump would have declassified.

In a letter filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyers argued it was not time to answer Dearie’s questions, and it would require them to disclose a defense to any subsequent impeachment – an acknowledgment that the investigation could lead to criminal charges.

On Tuesday, Trusty told Dearie that he believed Dearie’s request to provide a declassification defense went beyond what Cannon asked him to do.

Dearie said he was “taken aback” by the claim.

“I think I do what I’m told,” Dearie said.

On Friday, the Justice Department appealed part of Cannon’s decision, seeking to suspend the review of about 100 documents with classified marks and the FBI’s restricted access to them.

Federal prosecutors said the special main review ordered by the judge would prevent the government from addressing national security risks and force the disclosure of “highly sensitive material.”

With that appeal still pending, it’s still unclear if Dearie’s review will proceed exactly as Cannon requested.

On Tuesday, Trump’s legal team filed its response with the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, opposing the government’s request and calling the Justice Department’s investigation “unprecedented and erroneous”.

“restore order from chaos.”

In Cannon’s order appointing Dearie as a special master, she asked him to complete his exam by the end of November. She asked him to prioritize documents marked classified, although his process calls for Trump’s attorney to review the documents, and Trump’s lawyers may not have the necessary security clearance.

The Justice Department has called the special main process unnecessary because it has already conducted its own solicitor-client privilege review and set aside about 500 pages that might be admissible. He opposes a review of executive privilege, saying such a claim on the records would fail.

The August FBI raid came after Trump left office with government documents and did not return them, despite numerous government requests and a subpoena.

It is still unclear whether the government has all the records. The Justice Department said some classified documents may still be missing after the FBI recovered empty files with classification marks from Mar-a-Lago.

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Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen in New York, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama

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