Special guru asks if Trump’s lawyers declassified records in FBI search

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NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge appointed to review documents seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida home last month told the former president on Tuesday that he should not have reviewed whether the records belonged to Confidential claims have been challenged.

In his first public hearing since his appointment as special director, Judge Raymond Deeley, who reviews documents as an independent arbitrator or special director, pressured Trump’s lawyers to ask if they had any evidence that Trump declassified the records.

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

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

“You did file a lawsuit,” Dearie told Trump’s attorney James Trusty after Trusty said attorneys “couldn’t” say the former president declassified the documents before they could review the records first.

Senior federal judge Dearie in Brooklyn will help decide which of the more than 11,000 documents seized in August. The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the former president’s handling of documents should be reserved for the 8-day search at Mar-a-Lago.

Dearie will be referred to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over the fight over access to seized documents that could be a claim of attorney-client or executive privilege, which allows the president to withhold certain documents or information.

Tuesday’s hearing came a day after Derie circulated a draft plan to both parties on Monday seeking details of documents Trump allegedly declassified.

In a letter filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyers argued that now is not the time to address Dirie, which would force them to disclose their defenses to any subsequent prosecution — acknowledging that the investigation could lead to criminal charges.

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

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

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

On Friday, the Justice Department appealed parts of Cannon’s ruling, seeking a stay of review of about 100 documents marked as classified and a judge restricting the FBI’s access to them.

Federal prosecutors said the special general review ordered by the judge would hinder the government’s response to national security risks and mandate the disclosure of “highly sensitive material.”

As the appeal is still pending, it is unclear whether Dearie’s review will proceed in full accordance with Cannon’s instructions.

Trump’s legal team filed a response to the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, opposing the administration’s demands and calling the Justice Department’s investigation “unprecedented and misguided.”

In the 40-page document, Trump’s lawyers said the court should not believe that the Justice Department said the roughly 100 documents in question were in fact still classified, and said the special director should be allowed to review the documents as a move toward “Restore order from chaos.”

Under Cannon’s order to appoint Dilly as a special master, she asked him to complete his review by the end of November. She directed him to prioritize documents marked classified, even though her process requires that Trump’s lawyers, who may not have the necessary security clearances, review them.

The Justice Department described the special main process as unnecessary because it had conducted its own review of attorney-client privilege and set aside about 500 pages that might qualify. It opposed the executive privilege review, saying any such assertion of the record would fail.

The August FBI search came after Trump left the office with documents belonging to the government, which were not returned despite repeated requests and subpoenas.

It is unclear whether the government has all the records. The Justice Department said some classified material may still be missing after the FBI recovered empty folders with classification markings 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

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Luke Cohen

Thomson Reuters

Report on New York Federal Court. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.

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