New DOJ filing exposes Trump’s secret objections — and asks special master to call his bluff

The DOJ's response to Trump's lawyers in Mar-a-Lago case is "absolutely hilarious," says attorney George Conway

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published September 28, 2022 9:38AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Save America Rally at the Aero Center Wilmington on September 23, 2022 in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Save America Rally at the Aero Center Wilmington on September 23, 2022 in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

The Justice Department, in a filing on Tuesday, revealed objections made by the Trump legal team that the ex-president's lawyers had tried to keep under wraps.

Federal Judge Raymond Dearie, the special master tasked with reviewing thousands of documents seized from Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, earlier this month challenged Trump's lawyers to assert whether or not they endorsed his public claim that the FBI may have "planted" evidence during the search and also to produce evidence for Trump's claim that he had declassified secret national security documents before taking them home.

Trump's team apparently responded with objections to Dearie's plan for the special master review, but those were not made public until the Justice Department responded to them in a filing on Tuesday.

"Team Trump is filing complaints under seal for some reason, but DOJ is discussing it not under seal, so we can largely infer what Trump is upset about," New York Times national security reporter Charlie Savage flagged on Twitter.

The filing revealed that Trump's lawyers had objected to Dearie's request that they verify that the search inventory filed by the DOJ is accurate, which would effectively negate Trump's dubious claim that the FBI may have "planted" evidence. The DOJ affirmed that its inventory of items seized from Mar-a-Lago is complete and accurate and urged Dearie to require Trump's lawyers to state for the record whether they agree.

Trump's lawyers also objected to Dearie's request that they explain whether they are claiming attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. Judge Aileen Cannon, the Trump appointee who ordered the special master review, failed to ask for a clear distinction.  

It's unclear exactly what Trump's third objection was.

"Team Trump doesn't want to brief something that DOJ says is fine briefing. They don't say what, but Dearie's directive had discussed a briefing schedule for any eventual Rule 44 motion by Trump for return of property seized in the search, so it's probably that," Savage reported.

Trump's lawyers previously declined to provide evidence of his claims that he "declassified" the documents, arguing that they may need to save any such evidence for a defense in a future hearing and a possible prosecution.

"Trump's team objects to the Special Master's order requiring them to state whether particular documents are privileged or declassified and provide evidence in support of any claim that a document was declassified," tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "They want to have their cake and eat it too. They won't get that."

Mariotti also questioned why Trump's lawyers made the arguments under seal.

"That could be because their arguments are at odds with their public positions," Mariotti wrote.

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The DOJ filing also revealed that Trump's team had trouble finding a vendor to digitize the documents that were seized for the special master review.

Trump's team "informed us this morning that none of the five document-review vendors proposed by the government" were "willing to be engaged" by Trump. The DOJ asked Dearie for an extra day to secure a vendor themselves. The DOJ expects Trump to "pay the vendor's invoices promptly when rendered," the filing said.

"This is absolutely hilarious," tweeted conservative attorney George Conway.

Trump's legal team has been in flux since the FBI raid in August, as he struggled to find an elite lawyer to represent him — and as some of his attorneys may face legal scrutiny themselves. Trump raised eyebrows earlier this month after he used donor money from his super PAC to pay a $3 million advance to attorney Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who once represented an official in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government. CNN reported on Tuesday that Kise has been "sidelined from the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation less than a month after he was brought on to represent Trump in the matter." A Trump spokesman denied the report and Kise told the Washington Post that he will still work on the case.

"The infighting in this team," tweeted New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, "after one lawyer faced a search warrant and another two have gotten attention from DOJ over their statements to the feds on the documents, continues."

By Igor Derysh

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

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