The special master tapped to examine the documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago appeared deeply skeptical of the arguments help with by former President Trump’s legal team within an opening hearing Tuesday.
Why it matters: What initially appeared as if a legal victory for Trump the appointment of a particular master he requested, by way of a federal judge who stunned experts with her ruling isn’t panning out just how he previously hoped.
Between your lines: As Axios first reported, lawyers and advisers to Trump believed Judge Raymond Dearie’s role on the secretive FISA court which approved controversial warrants used to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page made the judge a deep skeptic of the FBI.
- Dearie’s personal feelings remain unknown; what’s not in dispute after today’s hearing is that his seven years on the FISA court have given him a deep knowledge of classification controls and the significance of the country’s secrets.
- The Trump team’s bet that Dearie will be slow-moving can be vulnerable to backfiring: The judge’s draft arrange for the document review envisions the “inspection and labeling process” being completed by Oct. 7 significantly less than three weeks away.
- Which could potentially keep carefully the story in the news throughout a final election stretch that could typically start to see the Department of Justice go dark on politically sensitive investigations.
Driving the news headlines: Dearie repeatedly pressed Trump’s lawyers to supply proof for the former president’s claims made on social media marketing, but never in court he declassified the documents a long time before these were seized from Mar-a-Lago.
- “This is simply not a criminal case. The plaintiff gets the burden of establishing his to relief,” Dearie told the courtroom, signaling in early stages that the Trump team would face an uphill climb.
- As the DOJ has pointed to classification markings indicating the documents contained highly sensitive national security secrets, Trump’s lawyers have refused to supply proof declassification.
- They’ve argued that doing this could mean disclosing Trump’s defense to a potential indictment later on.
What they’re saying: “So far as I’m concerned, that is the end of it,” Dearie declared after asking Trump’s team what they expect him to accomplish. “My view is you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
Underneath line: The special master delay and the debate over declassification haven’t changed the main element facts Trump, as his own lawyers conceded, is staring down the real risk of an indictment.