“Where’s the beef?”: Special master calls out Trump lawyers’ “bungling missteps” in Mar-a-Lago case

“I guess Donald’s Whoppers don’t count before Judge Dearie,” tweeted conservative attorney George Conway

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published October 19, 2022 9:22AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The special master tasked with reviewing thousands of documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence called out Trump's lawyers for failing to provide evidence of his privilege claims.

Longtime federal Judge Raymond Dearie complained during a phone conference on Tuesday that a log of documents Trump is seeking to withhold from the Justice Department lacks information to determine whether his privilege claims are valid. He asked Trump's lawyers to explain why Trump believes the documents should be shielded from the Justice Department's criminal investigation, according to The New York Times. The call focused on a small set of documents that the Justice Department has already reviewed for potentially privileged information and set aside.

"It's a little perplexing as I go through the log," Dearie said. "What's the expression – 'Where's the beef?' I need some beef."

Dearie has repeatedly pressed Trump's legal team to provide evidence of his public claims but they have resisted.

"I guess Donald's Whoppers don't count before Judge Dearie," tweeted conservative attorney George Conway.

Dearie also called out "bungling missteps by Trump counsel" in the case, noted New York University Law Professor Ryan Goodman. Dearie during the call pointed out that Trump's lawyers claimed that one of the documents was both Trump's personal property and that it was protected by executive privilege, which means it is a government record that cannot be personal property.

"Unless I'm wrong, and I've been wrong before, there's certainly an incongruity there," Dearie said.

Dearie also pressed Trump's legal team to provide more information on documents he claims are protected by attorney-client privilege. Dearie suggested that Trump's lawyers had invoked privilege over records involving a third party, which suggests they were not confidential.

"Where third parties are involved in the document, I need some understanding why the presence of the third party doesn't defeat the privilege," Dearie said.

Trump attorney James Trusty told Dearie that they would provide a response to his requests.

Dearie during the call also called out the Trump team's estimate that the 11,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago amounted to about 200,000 pages. But the DOJ said the actual number of pages is only 21,792, pointing to an inaccurate estimate by a company hired to scan the documents electronically.

Dearie also criticized both Trump's team and DOJ lawyers for clashing over the review process.

"I don't want to be dealing with nonsense objections, nonsense assertions, especially when I have one month to deal with who knows how many assertions," he said.

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Dearie gave both sides until November 12 to estimate how many of the documents might be privileged, citing a December 16 deadline set by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon to complete the review.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, named the special master in response to a lawsuit from the former president two weeks after the FBI seized thousands of documents from Mar-a-Lago. Cannon, whose rulings in the case have perplexed legal experts, initially barred the DOJ from using about 100 documents marked classified in their criminal probe but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that part of her order, agreeing with the DOJ that she had abused her authority. The Supreme Court also declined to intervene in the matter in response to an emergency request from Trump. The DOJ has since appealed Cannon's entire order naming a special prosecutor. Legal experts this week predicted that the DOJ had a strong chance to win the appeal but the review may already be completed by the time the appeals process plays out.

The DOJ appeal "supporting prompt dismissal of the entire case Trump filed with Judge Cannon is as close to being conclusive and irrefutable as any brief I have ever read," tweeted Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe. "I don't even see a need for oral argument."

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 Mar-a-lago Politics Raymond Dearie