The judge assigned to review the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago pushed back against attorneys for Donald Trump on Tuesday as they dance around whether the former president ever declassified the documents in his home.
Trump’s attorneys rebuffed a request from Judge Raymond Dearie, one of Trump’s candidates chosen to serve as the special master in the case, in a Monday filing that sought more details about the former president’s claims around declassification.
In a Tuesday conference, Dearie appeared unsatisfied with the response, indicating that further explanation would be necessary only if criminal charges were filed.
He said if Trump’s lawyers will not actually assert that the records have been declassified and the Justice Department instead makes an acceptable case that they remain classified, then “as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it.”
James Trusty, a lawyer for Trump, said the legal team was “not in a position” to say whether the documents were declassified without first reviewing them, to which Dearie responded, “You did bring a lawsuit.”
Trump’s lawyers have failed to assert in court that Trump declassified the documents even as they seek to cast doubt on whether the documents are still classified.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie said.
Dearie also seemed to cast doubt on whether Trump’s legal team would be able to review all the classified documents, noting that some of the records are restricted to those with a need to know.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) noted that some of its own investigators would not have sufficient clearances to review the documents, prompting Trusty to say it was “astounding” that the government would argue Trump’s legal team wouldn’t have a need to know.
The exchanges took place in the first conference between Dearie and both parties following a ruling from a Florida judge granting Trump’s request for a special master. The decision also blocks the DOJ from accessing the documents, including the classified material, until Dearie’s review is completed as late as Nov. 30.
The Justice Department has appealed that decision, asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to grant a request that would allow them to begin reviewing just the 100 classified records taken during the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.