Judge asks Trump’s lawyers if they declassified records in FBI search

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NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) – A U.S. judge appointed to review documents seized by the FBI at Donald Trump’s Florida home last month pressed Trump’s lawyers on Tuesday to say whether they Intended to assert that the records had been declassified by the former president, if he claimed.

Judge Raymond Dearie — who, as independent arbitrator or special director, reviews more than 11,000 seized documents and may recommend keeping some away from federal investigators — asked Trump’s lawyers why he shouldn’t consider marking truly confidential record of.

“If the government provides me with prima facie evidence (in legal terms, meaning unless proven true) that it’s classified, and you decide not to make a request for declassification … as far as I’m concerned, that’s ending it,” Dee said. Lee told Trump’s lawyers at Trump’s first public hearing on the matter.

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Brooklyn’s top federal judge, Deirley, who Trump’s lawyers recommended him as a special master, did not rule.

About 100 documents were seized in August, sanctioned by the court. A search was carried out on the 8th at Trump’s home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, with classification markers. Trump’s lawyer, James Trusty, told Dearie that it was too early to say Trump used his powers to declassify documents during his presidency — a position Dearie suggested undercuts that claim.

“You can’t eat your cake,” the judge said.

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s retention of government records at Mar-a-Lago after he leaves office in January 2021, some of which have been marked as highly classified, including top secret. Trump has denied wrongdoing and said it was a partisan attack without providing investigative evidence.

Trump said in social media posts that he had declassified the records, but his lawyers sidestepped the issue in court.

Three statutes underpinning the search warrant used by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago make it a crime to mishandle government records, regardless of their classification status.

Dearie was tasked with referring to Florida-based U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who is presiding over a battle over access to seized documents that may be protected by claims of attorney-client confidentiality or executive privilege, a legal doctrine , according to this principle, the president can keep certain documents or information secret.

Trump’s lawyers have argued now is not the time to provide specific information about the declassification, saying in a letter filed ahead of the hearing that it would force them to disclose their defenses to any subsequent prosecution — acknowledging that the investigation could lead to criminal accusation.

Cannon’s order appointing Dearie as special director gives him until the end of November to complete a review and prioritize documents marked classified. Cannon’s proposed process requires Trump’s lawyers to review the documents, and members of his legal team may lack the necessary U.S. government security clearances.

Trusty asked Dearie to urge prosecutors to get more members of Trump’s team appropriate clearances. Dearie said that access should only be granted to those who really need to see classified material.

Prosecutor Julie Edelstein said at the hearing that some of the documents were so sensitive that even some members of the Justice Department team were not allowed to see them.

The Justice Department on Friday appealed to the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit over Cannon’s ruling allowing the special director to review records marked classified and a judge restricting the FBI’s access to those records.

On Tuesday, Trump’s legal team opposed the administration’s demands, calling the Justice Department’s investigation “unprecedented and misguided.”

The department opened its investigation after the National Archives, which keeps government records, tried to get Trump to return lost government property and received 15 boxes mixed with classified documents.

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Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen in New York, Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Luke Cohen

Thomson Reuters

Report on New York Federal Court. Previously worked as a correspondent in Venezuela and Argentina.

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