September 22, 2022
A federal judge expressed skepticism on Tuesday, September 20, about the efforts by former President Donald Trump’s legal team to avoid offering any proof of his claims that he had declassified sensitive government documents that were seized from his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, last month, reports The New York Times.
The statements by the judge, Raymond J. Dearie, who is acting as a special master—an independent arbiter reviewing the seized materials, were an early indication that he may not be entirely sympathetic to the former president’s attempts to bog down the judge’s evaluation with time-consuming questions over the classification status of some of the documents.
“My view is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Judge Dearie said at a hearing called to determine the process he would use to do a sweeping review of materials seized from Trump under a search warrant executed by the FBI.
Judge Dearie, who had been suggested for the role by Trump’s legal team, was referring to a set of sometimes confusing arguments made by that team as it seeks to limit or delay the Justice Department’s criminal investigation.
Days after the extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago, the former president made public statements claiming that he had in fact declassified some of the seized records, suggesting that the Justice Department had no case against him for illegally retaining sensitive government material. But neither he nor his lawyers have ever made those same assertions in court—or in court papers—where they could face penalties for lying.
Instead, they have danced a fine line between suggesting that, as president, Trump had the authority to declassify the documents, while remaining silent on the issue of what he actually did—or did not do. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers have pursued another line of argument, telling Judge Dearie that he should not simply take the Justice Department’s word that some of the seized records are classified, as prosecutors claim.
At his first hearing as special master, Judge Dearie seemed to cut through this confusing web, telling Trump’s lawyers in direct terms that he was likely to deem the documents classified — unless they offered evidence to the contrary.
That prompted one of the lawyers, James Trusty, to say that Trump’s legal team might in the future offer that sort of evidence—in witness statements, for example—but that to do so now would telegraph its legal strategy to the government.
Trusty told Judge Dearie at the hearing that he wanted some of his legal partners to get expedited top secret security clearances so that they, too, could view the documents–all but admitting that the documents are, in fact, classified and top secret. Trusty said he already had a top-secret clearance from another case.
Complicating the matter even further, Julie Edelstein, a lawyer for the Justice Department, told Judge Dearie that a handful of the documents at issue were so secret that even Trusty’s clearance might not be enough.
Research contact: @nytimes