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Justice

Mar-a-Lago special master gives Trump short deadline to prove planted evidence claims

The special master handling the Mar-a-Lago raid has given former President Donald Trump a short deadline to provide details that would bolster his claims about documents the FBI seized, a day after the Justice Department scored an appeals court win.

Judge Raymond Dearie, who was appointed special master by Judge Aileen Cannon, gave Trump’s team until Sept. 30 to submit a declaration on a number of key issues, including what appeared to be a reference to suggestions by Trump allies that some of the evidence the FBI said it had seized was somehow planted. Dearie asked Trump’s lawyers on Thursday to provide an affidavit on “a list of any specific items set forth in the Detailed Property Inventory that [Trump] asserts were not seized from the Premises on August 8, 2022.”

Dearie also told Trump’s team to list any specific items that the former president believes were described incorrectly in the FBI’s inventory list or that he believes were located somewhere different in Mar-a-Lago than where the bureau says the item was collected. The special master also asked Trump to provide a detailed list of any items that he believes were seized by the FBI but weren’t listed in the property inventory.

“This submission shall be [Trump’s] final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” the special master said.

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An appeals court granted a DOJ request for a partial stay of a lower court order on Wednesday evening, allowing the department to continue its criminal investigation using allegedly classified documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago.

The three-judge panel’s decision was a win for the DOJ, with the appeals court also reversing Cannon’s determination that the DOJ would have to provide roughly 100 documents with classified markings to a special master for independent review.

Dearie also said he understood that the Justice Department had already provided Trump with a set of documents reviewed by the FBI’s filter team which have been designated as potentially privileged attorney-client communications, and the special master ordered Trump to “prioritize the Filter Materials and to provide the government with a log of its designations as to the Filter Materials” by Sept. 26.

The special master gave Trump’s team until Oct. 14 to provide the Justice Department with a “final and complete log of designations” related to the former president’s claims of privilege over the seized records, and the special master said both Trump and the DOJ will have until Oct. 21 to submit their “final and complete log of disputed designations” to the special master.

He also said “a government official with sufficient knowledge of the matter” would need to submit an affidavit on whether the property inventory provided by the Justice Department “represents the full and accurate extent of the property seized” from Mar-a-Lago. He stressed that this would be “excluding documents bearing classification markings.”

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Cannon, a district court judge in Florida, had ruled this month that she “temporarily enjoins the Government from reviewing and using the seized materials for investigative purposes pending completion of the special master’s review or further Court order.” She stressed that her ruling “shall not impede" the classification review and intelligence assessment being conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed that order Wednesday evening, and on Thursday she had more narrowly tailored her special master order to align with the appeals court shooting her down by siding with DOJ.

Dearie, who was put forward by Trump to be special master, had suggested to the former president’s lawyers during a Tuesday hearing that Trump must provide evidence of declassification or else the judge may have to assume the records seized by the FBI are indeed classified.

Trump's attorneys told Dearie they were hesitant about detailing what Trump may have declassified because that topic might end up being part of their defense against a future indictment by the DOJ.

The appeals court panel seemed to agree with Dearie’s skepticism of Trump’s arguments and largely removed the classification controversy from the special master's hands.

“[Trump] has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents,” the circuit judges said Wednesday. “Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents. And even if he had, that, in and of itself, would not explain why [Trump] has an individual interest in the classified documents.”

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Trump lawyer Jim Trusty told the special master on Tuesday that "we are not in a position — nor should we be in a position at this juncture — to fully disclose a substantive defense."

Dearie replied, “My view of it is: You can’t have your cake and eat it.”