A court-appointed special marshal expressed frustration Tuesday with the limited information he is getting from the Justice Department and from defense attorneys for former President Donald Trump about disputes over documents seized from Mar-a-Lago.
“Where’s the beef? I need some beef,” said Judge Raymond Dearie, who is acting as a third-party reviewer of the seized documents, during a half-hour conference call with lawyers from both sides.
The discussion highlighted the potentially messy and slow process of working through privacy claims in the unprecedented criminal investigation into Trump. The former president claims that at least some of the documents are his and should not 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 U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida.
On Tuesday, Dearie, for example, pointed to a letter already disputed 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 at Mar-a-Lago was unsigned. The Ministry of Justice had not said whether the agency had received it.
Dearie asked why the two sides cannot mutually determine whether the letter was sent, which would be a crucial fact in helping the judge decide whether it should be kept confidential.
“I don’t want to deal with nonsense objections, nonsense claims, especially when I have a month to deal with who knows how many claims,” said Dearie of the Eastern District of New York.
Dearie’s discussion in Tuesday’s and earlier orders set a timeline for him to make decisions about the confidentiality of documents by mid-December. The Justice Department is already separately working through about 100 records marked classified that were seized at Mar-a-Lago and split from Dearie’s work, and the agency is also challenging in a federal appeals court the special masters process altogether.
Dearie told the parties that he also hopes to hear from both sides about how to handle documents that Trump wants to call personal, thereby potentially protecting them from investigators, and also claiming they are covered by executive privilege, which could make them government documents.
“Unless I’m wrong, and I’ve been wrong before, there is some inconsistency there. Maybe 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.