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Trump’s Request For a Special Master Is Backfiring Royally

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Donald Trump

When a federal judge last week ruled to let a special master review the documents seized by the FBI at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, some in the ex-president’s circle hailed it as a triumph.

They had argued that the FBI acted wrongly in seizing troves of documents from Trump’s home, and a review from a third-party official could find FBI malpractice.

But the special master he requested, by a federal judge who stunned experts with her ruling — isn’t panning out the way he had hoped, and it’s increasingly looking like a strategy that backfired, legal experts say.

“The Trump filings for a Special Master were a huge misstep. DOJ has used its response to disclose damning proof of a series of crimes, which it would not otherwise have been able to do,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissman.

A court hearing in Brooklyn on Tuesday gave the public its first glimpse of how Judge Raymond Dearie —a senior judge who’s been tapped to serve as the special master— will approach the job of reviewing materials seized from Trump’s residence.

Dearie, a seasoned and widely respected jurist, showed skepticism of Trump’s arguments about how the review should proceed, while stressing a desire to move quickly. His appointment order – issued by US District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida – said he must finish his review by the end of November.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Dearie wasted no time to put Trump on notice that he will need to put up or shut up on declassification

The judge – who served for several years on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – indicated that he would not have much patience for Trump trying to muddy the waters around the classification status of documents marked as classified, particularly if Trump wasn’t willing to lay out why the records should not be treated as classified, CNN reports.

“If the government gives me prima facia evidence that these are classified documents, and you, for whatever reason, decide not to advance any claim of declassification, I’m left with a prima facia case of classified documents, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it,” Dearie told Trump’s lawyers at the hearing.

Trump’s lawyers argued that the court should not make any assumptions about the classification status of the documents, while vaguely implying the documents may have been declassified. But Trump’s attorneys have stopped well short of asserting in court that Trump himself declassified them.

In a Monday letter to the special master, Trump’s lawyers said that they did not want to make such disclosures about declassification at this stage of the review, indicating that it could be a part of Trump’s defense if he is indicted.

“My view of it is you can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie told the Trump team.

Dearie also made clear that the review was going to need to move quickly to hit the pre-December deadline mandated by Cannon.

“I’m not going to hurry, but we have a lot to do and a relatively short period of time,” he said before remarking that if he can make his recommendation to Cannon about certain classified documents without exposing himself or Trump’s lawyers to the material, he would do so.

“It’s a matter of need to know,” Dearie said, referring to the standard in court cases that is used to determine when even those with a security clearance can view classified materials.