Judge Reviewing Mar-a-Lago Documents Complains That Trump Has Offered No Evidence He Declassified Them
When the FBI searched former President Donald Trump’s home at his Palm Beach resort last month, it was investigating possible violations of three federal statutes. None of those crimes hinges on the question of whether the documents that the FBI found at Mar-a-Lago, more than 100 of which were marked as classified, still had that status. That issue nevertheless has become a major point of contention between Trump and the Justice Department as they wrangle over what should be done with the 11,000 or so records seized by the FBI.
Trump’s lawyers say the government has failed to prove any of the documents were still classified, while the government’s lawyers say Trump has presented no evidence to the contrary. U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, the “special master” appointed to review the records, yesterday endorsed the government’s take on that issue. Dearie, who served seven years on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, suggested he had no business second-guessing classification markings. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it,” he said during a hearing in Brooklyn, unless Trump can present evidence that he declassified the records when he still had the authority to do so.
Trump attorney James Trusty implied that such evidence exists, but he said disclosing it would be premature. “We are not in a position, nor should we be in a position at this juncture, to fully disclose a substantive defense,” Trusty said. “We shouldn’t have to be in a position to have to disclose declarations and witness statements.” Dearie was not buying it. “My view of it is you can’t have your cake and eat it,” he replied.
All of this is rather surreal in light of the precautions that everyone, with the possible exception of Trump himself, seems to think are appropriate in handling the records marked as classified. Trusty, who already has a top-secret security clearance thanks to work on a prior case, told Dearie he was seeking expedited clearances for his colleagues so they also could have access to the documents. The New York Times reports that Julie Edelstein, a Justice Department lawyer, said “a handful of the documents at issue were so secret that even Mr. Trusty’s clearance might not be enough.” She added that “some of the documents are so sensitive that members of the team investigating possible offenses here have not yet been able to see them.”
Even Dearie, despite his extensive work as a judge who routinely dealt with classified information, said he would prefer to resolve the dispute without reading the sensitive documents. “It’s not just a matter of having the clearance,” he said. “It’s a matter of need to know.”
If you believe Trump and trust his judgment, all these safeguards are unnecessary, because he decided the records were not sensitive enough to justify keeping them classified. Trump claims he had “a standing order” as president that automatically declassified any documents he removed
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