“Trump’s team miscalculated”: Experts say Trump’s handpicked special master just called his "bluff”

Trump lawyers immediately balk at Dearie's request for details on Trump's claim that he "declassified" documents

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published September 20, 2022 9:25AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Covelli Centre on September 17, 2022 in Youngstown, Ohio. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Covelli Centre on September 17, 2022 in Youngstown, Ohio. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's attorneys on Tuesday refused to back up his claims that he "declassified" secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago resort in response to a request from the special master that they sought.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, last week appointed longtime federal Judge Raymond Dearie as a special master to review some 11,000 documents found at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's team included Dearie on their list of proposed special masters, reportedly because of their belief that he is deeply skeptical of the FBI, but the Justice Department agreed to the choice, citing his "previous federal judicial experience and engagement in relevant areas of law." Dearie this week offered a proposed draft plan for the review that included a request for Trump's lawyers to submit any details related to Trump's repeated claim that he "declassified" the documents before taking them home, according to Politico.

Trump's lawyers, who have not made a single mention of Trump's dubious declassification claim in court documents, immediately balked at the special master's request, writing that the details could be used in a defense against potential future criminal charges.

Trump's attorneys wrote in a letter to Dearie that it was not the "time and place" for them to turn over the details because it would force Trump to "fully and specifically disclose a defense on the merits of any subsequent indictment  without such a requirement being evident in the District Court's order."

Trump's team also pushed back on Dearie's request that they submit their claims related to the search of Mar-a-Lago to Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who has repeatedly been attacked by Trump after signing off on the search warrant.

Trump's lawyers also took issue with Dearie's plan to complete the entire "inspection and labeling process" by October 7 after Cannon allocated two months for the review process.

"We respectfully suggest that all of the deadlines can be extended to allow for a more realistic and complete assessment of the areas of disagreement," Trump's attorneys wrote.

Legal experts who have cast doubt on the merits of Cannon's decision to appoint a special master in the case highlighted the different approach Dearie was taking, Politico reported, noting that "Cannon never pushed Trump or his lawyers to take firm positions on whether he had, as president, actually declassified any of the materials he brought to his estate or designated any as his personal property."

"When push comes to shove, I find it hard to believe that [Trump] will maintain his short term victory with a long term win," former federal prosecutor David Weinstein told the outlet.

"The special master is calling Trump's bluff and already they're objecting," tweeted national security attorney Bradley Moss.

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The Justice Department last week appealed part of Cannon's order barring them from continuing the criminal investigation into the documents, rejecting her assertion that Trump's claims about the documents were legitimate.

"[T]he district court cited portions of Plaintiff's filings in which he suggested that he could have declassified those documents or purported to designate them as 'personal' records … But despite multiple opportunities, Plaintiff has never represented that he in fact took either of those steps—much less supported such a representation with competent evidence," the DOJ said in filing.

Legal experts hailed Dearie for calling out Trump's claim.

"Part of the reason Judge Dearie is doing this is I'm sure he saw what order he was given from Judge Cannon. I'm sure he looked at the filing and said 'enough is enough, I'm not dancing around this,'" Moss told MSNBC. "It's really simple. Either you've got the evidence or you don't."

Other legal experts suggested that Trump's lawyers refused to turn over the details to avoid their own legal trouble.

"Trump's team is resisting," wrote Ryan Goodman, a professor at NYU School of Law. "Smells like they want to avoid lying to court."

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, agreed that Trump's lawyers likely "don't want to lie and be disbarred and subject their client to a criminal false statement charge."

"Trump team ruing the day it proposed Judge Dearie," he tweeted.

"I've seen enough," wrote former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "Trump's team miscalculated by asking for Judge Dearie to serve as special master."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Aileen Cannon Donald Trump Politics Raymond Dearie