A court-appointed special master expressed frustration on Tuesday with the limited information he’s getting from the Justice Department and from defense lawyers for former President Donald Trump about disputes over documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
“Where’s the beef? I need some beef,” Judge Raymond Dearie, acting as the third-party reviewer of the seized documents, said during a half-hour conference call with the attorneys from both sides.
The discussion highlighted the potentially messy and slow process of working through privacy claims in the unprecedented criminal investigation around Trump. The former President is arguing that at least some of the documents are his and shouldn’t be allowed to be used by Justice Department investigators.
Dearie is reviewing the documents to determine which ones the Justice Department can use in its criminal investigation. He will then send recommendations to district Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida.
On Tuesday, Dearie pointed, for instance, to a letter that’s already in dispute as potentially private in the collection of documents taken from Trump’s Florida estate. The letter was apparently addressed to the Justice Department but the copy found in Mar-a-Lago was unsigned. The Justice Department hadn’t said if the agency had received it.
Dearie asked why the two sides can’t determine among themselves if the letter was sent, which would be a crucial fact to help the judge decide if it should be kept confidential.
“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,” said Dearie of the Eastern District of New York.
Dearie’s discussion on Tuesday and previous orders set a timeline for him to make decisions on the privacy of documents by mid-December. The Justice Department is separately already working through about 100 records marked as classified that were seized at Mar-a-Lago and split out from Dearie’s work, and the agency is also challenging at a federal appeals court the special master process on the whole.
Dearie told the parties that he also hopes to hear from both sides on how he should treat documents that Trump wants to call personal, and thus potentially protect them from investigators, and also claim are covered by executive privilege, which could make them government documents.
“Unless I’m wrong, and I’ve been wrong before, there’s a certain incongruity there. Perhaps the plaintiffs’ counsel will address that in a submission,” Dearie said.
Both sides will make much of their additional privilege claims over documents to Dearie by November 12.
The parties have not yet indicated how many of the nearly 22,000 pages seized at Mar-a-Lago Trump are in dispute and will require the special master to make a call.