Former President Donald Trump's attorneys pushed back on a request to back up his "planted" evidence claims from the special master tasked with reviewing thousands of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
Longtime federal Judge Raymond Dearie, who was selected by Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon from a list proposed by the former president's legal team, asked Trump's lawyers to submit a sworn declaration on whether they believe the government's inventory list of items seized at Mar-a-Lago is accurate, essentially challenging them on Trump's repeated public claims that the FBI may have "planted" evidence during the search.
Trump's lawyers in a letter to Dearie listed objections to the request. The letter argued that Dearie does not have the authority to require them to make such a statement because Cannon only required the government to confirm the accuracy of the inventory list and not Trump. His lawyers also argued that they could not verify the accuracy because they do not have access to documents that were marked classified.
The letter also objected to Dearie's handling of Trump's privilege claims and his request for a briefing on legal questions around Cannon's order.
Trump's lawyers also submitted a second letter revealing the scope of the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department earlier this week revealed that none of their proposed vendors to digitize the documents agreed to work with Trump. Trump's lawyers said in the letter that it was because they only recently learned from DOJ lawyers that the 11,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago actually contain about 200,000 pages.
Trump's lawyers argued that the vendors declined because the DOJ was not forthcoming about the number of pages and that Dearie had set unrealistic timelines.
"The problem is compounded by the fact that when Plaintiff's counsel referred to either 11,000 pages or even 11,000 documents during the status conference (we are still awaiting the transcript), the Government chose not to interject with an accurate number," Trump's lawyers wrote. "In conversations between Plaintiff's counsel and the Government regarding a data vendor, the Government mentioned that the 11,000 documents contain closer to 200,000 pages."
Both Trump's team and the DOJ asked Dearie for an extension.
"That estimated volume, with a need to operate under the accelerated timeframes supported by the Government, is the reason why so many of the Government's selected vendors have declined the potential engagement," Trump's lawyers wrote. "In short, seasoned IT professionals who routinely work on large-scale document productions with the Government cannot meet the Government's proposed schedule."
The DOJ said it could find a vendor more quickly but still expects Trump to pay for the costs.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
The DOJ in its letter pushed back on Trump's objections to the process laid out by Dearie, writing that the former president "bears the burden of proof" in the proceedings.
"If he wants the special master to make recommendations as to whether he is entitled to the relief he seeks, plaintiff will need to participate in the process" the letter said.
Trump's lawyers accused the DOJ of making "antagonistic comments" in response to their objections.
"DOJ continues to mistake itself as having judicial authority. Its comments are not argument, but proclamations designed to steamroll judicial oversight and the plaintiff's constitutional rights," Trump's lawyers wrote.
Andrew Weissmann, a longtime former federal prosecutor who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, warned that Trump's letter to the judge may rub him the wrong way.
"The tone of this letter and skewed fact presentation is going to only piss Dearie off," he tweeted. "He's a fan of decorum and honesty. Go figure."
Legal reporters also noted that the letters raised questions about the state of Trump's legal team. Some of Trump's lawyers may face their own legal jeopardy in the case and Trump struggled to find an elite attorney to represent him in the case. He made headlines earlier this month when he hired Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who once represented an official in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government. Trump used $3 million in donor money to his PAC to pay Kise an eye-popping advance in the case but CNN reported this week that Kise was already "sidelined from the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation less than a month after he was brought on to represent Trump in the matter." Kise and a Trump spokesman denied the report but, as Politico reporter Josh Gerstein noted, "Kise does indeed appear to have disappeared from filings."
about Trump's legal battle
- "Put up or shut up moment": Special master corners Trump's lawyers on his "planted" evidence claims
- "Trump's request has already backfired": Trump's handpicked special master rebukes his claim on docs
- "Lordy there are pics": Legal experts say Trump lawyers may need their own lawyers after DOJ filing