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On ‘planted’ evidence, Team Trump faces put-up-or-shut-up test

For weeks, Donald Trump has suggested corrupt FBI agents might've "planted" evidence at Mar-a-Lago. A special master now wants his lawyers to prove it.


UPDATE: (Sept. 30, 2022, 7:32 a.m. ET): A federal judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump's legal team does not need to comply with special master Raymond Dearie's order for a sworn declaration on whether Trump believes FBI agents lied about the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago during a court-approved search.

During a Fox News appearance this week, Donald Trump once again raised the prospect of FBI agents planting incriminating evidence against him at Mar-a-Lago. “The problem that you have is [law enforcement officials] go into rooms — they won’t let anybody near — they wouldn’t even let them in the same building,” the former president said. “Did they drop anything into those piles? Or did they do it later?”

The rhetoric, alas, was familiar. It was on Aug. 10, just two days after the FBI’s court-approved search, when the Republican first raised the prospect of corrupt agents “planting” evidence. The claim quickly became a Trump favorite: He pushed it again on Aug. 12. And again on Aug. 14. And again on Aug. 22. And again on Sept. 9. And again this week.

Presumably, the former president could bolster his own claim by releasing security camera footage, but he has curiously decided not to.

For the special master in the classified documents case, this apparently isn’t quite good enough: U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, whom Team Trump recommended for the role, has issued a put-up-or-shut-up challenge to the former president’s attorneys. NBC News reported that Dearie has given them until a week from today to back up the allegations.

In a filing Thursday, Senior U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie of New York, the court-appointed special master, ordered the government to turn over copies of all non-classified items seized in the case to Trump’s lawyers by Monday. He then ordered Trump’s team to submit a “declaration or affidavit” of any items in the inventory that were removed from Mar-a-Lago that the “Plaintiff asserts were not seized from the Premises,” meaning items that were put there by someone else.

Dearie also asked Trump’s lawyers to identify any items that were seized by FBI agents but not listed in the official inventory. “This submission shall be Plaintiff’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” the judge wrote.

For weeks, the Republican’s lawyers have been afraid to echo their client’s claims for an obvious reason: They almost certainly know he’s lying. Failed former politicians can say whatever they please in public forums, and Trump has clearly come to believe he can lie with impunity. Attorneys, who can be sanctioned and disbarred, have no such luxury in their court filings.

It’s possible, I suppose, that we’ll soon see a dramatic shift and Team Trump will present the special master with detailed allegations of corrupt FBI agents committing crimes as part of an outrageous scheme to frame our poor, beleaguered former president.

But it seems far more likely that in Dearie’s put-up-or-shut-up challenge, Trump’s lawyers will quietly concede that there was no planted evidence — at which point their client will probably keep peddling the claim anyway.