The special master appointed to review the trove of documents seized from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month told the former president’s lawyers Tuesday they “can’t have your cake and eat it” amid arguments over whether the files were classified or not.
Judge Raymond Dearie pressed Trump’s lawyers during a hearing in Brooklyn federal court over whether they intend to argue the 45th president had declassified the records seized during the Aug. 8 raid.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Dearie, a longtime Brooklyn federal court judge, said at one point during his first public hearing since being appointed special master.
Trump’s attorney James Trusty had argued in court they were “not in a position” to discuss their possible defense until they see the files.
He also argued that the Trump team should not be forced, at this point, to disclose a possible defense based on the potential notion that the records were declassified before Trump left the White House.
Trusty denied they were trying to engage in “gamesmanship” — arguing it was a process that required “baby steps.”
In a court filing ahead of the hearing, Trump’s lawyers argued that the time for addressing questions about the declassification status of the documents would be if his side filed a motion seeking for the Justice Department to return some of the materials seized during the raid.
They also signaled in the filing that they didn’t want to answer questions about the declassification status — because it could be part of Trump’s defense if he is ever indicted.
As special master, Dearie is tasked with sifting through the trove of roughly 11,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago to determine if any are subjected to claims of attorney-client or executive privilege.
US District Judge Aileen Cannon, who granted the Trump team’s request for a special master, has given Dearie a Nov. 30 deadline to complete his review — instructing him to prioritize the classified records.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Trusty accused the special master of acting beyond the scope of what Cannon had tasked him with by questioning the Trump team about a potential declassification defense.
Dearie said he was “taken aback” by that claim, adding: “I think I’m doing what I’m told.”
Elsewhere during the hearing, Trusty asked about his legal team obtaining security clearance so they could review the seized classified materials.
But the special master said it wasn’t just a matter of having clearance, it was also “a matter of need to know.”
Trusty shot back: “It’s kind of astounding to hear the government say the president’s lawyers don’t have a need to know.”
Julie Edelstein, a Justice Department lawyer, argued that some of the documents seized by the FBI were so sensitive that some on the federal investigating team hadn’t even seen them.
Dearie also signaled that he intends to push briskly through the review process, saying there was “little time” to complete the assigned tasks.
“We’re going to proceed with what I call responsible dispatch,” he said.
Edelstein said they hoped to get the records digitized and provided to Trump’s legal team by next week.
Dearie instructed Trump’s lawyers to choose by Friday from a list of five government-approved vendors who can scan and process the seized records.
The Trump side had asked the special master in its earlier court filing to consider pushing back all of the deadlines for his review to “allow for a more realistic and complete assessment of the areas of disagreement.”
Under Cannon’s ruling, the feds have been barred from reviewing the seized documents as part of its criminal probe until the special master completes his review. She denied a request last week from prosecutors to lift the ban.
Prosecutors had tried to argue against appointing a special master, arguing that it would slow the pace of its probe and that its filter team — made up of federal agents not part of the investigation — had already completed its work.
With Post wires