The first sign of trouble came into focus overnight. As part of the case surrounding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Judge Raymond Dearie, the newly appointed special master, presented both the Justice Department and Donald Trump’s lawyers with a draft plan about how the process would unfold — and the former president’s team was dissatisfied.
For example, Dearie, specifically requested for this role by Team Trump, had made clear that he wanted the former president’s attorneys to disclose details about the documents he claims to have declassified. They responded that they didn’t want to comply.
This and other areas of disagreement quickly brought an important detail into focus: While U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, a conservative, Trump-appointed jurist, may have been on the same page as the Republican plaintiffs, Dearie approached his duties far differently.
It was against this backdrop that the special master summoned lawyers from both sides to Brooklyn this afternoon for a public hearing. As Politico reported, it did not appear to go especially well for the former president.
The senior federal judge tasked with reviewing the materials seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate sharply questioned the former president’s attorneys Tuesday during their first hearing before his courtroom. Judge Raymond Dearie pushed Trump’s lawyers repeatedly for refusing to back up the former president’s claim that he declassified the highly sensitive national security-related records discovered in his residence.
For weeks, Trump has claimed that he declassified the materials he took, and for weeks, his lawyers have carefully avoided repeating their client’s assertions — in large part because they know he’s lying.
The matter is now coming to a head, however, because the special master is preparing to decide whether to take prosecutors’ word at face value that the records in question are, in fact, sensitive documents.
James Trusty, a member of the former president’s team, said he and his colleagues were “not in a position” to say whether Trump declassified the documents. Dearie reportedly replied, “You did bring a lawsuit.”
The special master, as part of the same exchange, explained that if Team Trump wasn’t prepared to challenge the Justice Department’s assessment that the materials in question are classified, then he didn’t have much of a choice. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it,” Dearie said, adding, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
As the matter comes to a put-up-or-shut-up point, something obvious about the special master is coming into sharp relief: Cannon he is not.
The Politico report added, “The early tension between Dearie and Trump’s legal team was an ominous sign for the former president.” To be sure, the process is far from finished, but if the former president assumed the special master his side requested would necessarily be on his side, he now knows better.