The senior federal judge tasked with reviewing the materials seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate sharply questioned the former president’s attorneys Tuesday during their first hearing in his courtroom.
Judge Raymond Dearie repeatedly challenged Trump’s lawyers for refusing to back up the former president’s claim that he declassified the highly sensitive national security-related records discovered in his residence.
“My view of it is: you can’t have your cake and eat it,” said Dearie, the “special master” picked by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon to vet Trump’s effort to reclaim the materials taken by federal investigators.
Trump has argued that the 11,000 documents taken from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI pursuant to a search warrant last month were rightfully in his possession, including about 100 bearing classification markings that suggest they contain some of the nation’s most closely guarded intelligence.
But Dearie bristled at the effort by Trump’s lawyers to resist his request for proof that Trump actually attempted to declassify any of the 100 documents that the Justice Department recovered from his estate. Without evidence from Trump, Dearie said his only basis to judge the classification level of the records was the fact that they all bear markings designating them as highly sensitive national security secrets — including some that indicate they contain intelligence derived from human sources and foreign intercepts.
From the outset of the 40-minute hearing, Dearie signaled that he was determined that Trump’s “litigation strategy” would not interfere with the review Dearie has agreed to do. The judge appeared to be referring to vague assertions of declassification by Trump’s side, without so far any facts to back that up.
“I can’t allow litigation strategy to dictate the outcome of my recommendations to Judge Cannon,” Dearie said. [Continue reading…]
A onetime White House lawyer under President Donald J. Trump warned him late last year that Mr. Trump could face legal liability if he did not return government materials he had taken with him when he left office, three people familiar with the matter said.
The lawyer, Eric Herschmann, sought to impress upon Mr. Trump the seriousness of the issue and the potential for investigations and legal exposure if he did not return the documents, particularly any classified material, the people said.
The account of the conversation is the latest evidence that Mr. Trump had been informed of the legal perils of holding onto material that is now at the heart of a Justice Department criminal investigation into his handling of the documents and the possibility that he or his aides engaged in obstruction. [Continue reading…]