Trump lawyers don’t want to say if he declassified documents in FBI search

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NEW YORK, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Lawyers for former President Donald Trump declined to say whether he declassified material seized in an FBI search of his Florida home in August as a U.S. judge was appointed to review the documents, and plans to hold its first meeting on the matter on Tuesday.

Judge Raymond Dearie circulated a draft plan to both parties on Monday seeking details of Trump’s allegedly declassified documents, as he has publicly claimed without evidence, although his lawyers have not asserted in court filings that a little.

In a letter filed ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyers argued that now is not the time and will force him to defend any subsequent prosecution — acknowledging that the investigation could lead to criminal charges.

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Brooklyn’s top federal judge Dilly was selected as an independent arbiter known as a special master. He will help determine which of the more than 11,000 documents seized in August. The Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago should not be part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into alleged document mishandling.

Dearie will recommend to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon what documents may be a claim of attorney-client or executive privilege, which allows the president to withhold certain documents or information.

It is unclear whether the review will follow the direction of Cannon, a Florida judge appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020 who ordered the review.

Trump is under investigation for keeping government records at his Palm Beach resort, his home after leaving office in January 2021, some of which have been marked as highly classified. He has denied wrongdoing and said, without giving evidence, that he believed the investigation was a partisan attack.

On Friday, the Justice Department appealed parts of Cannon’s ruling, seeking a stay of review of about 100 documents marked as classified and a judge restricting the FBI’s access to them.

Federal prosecutors said the special general review ordered by the judge would hinder the government’s response to national security risks and mandate the disclosure of “highly sensitive material.”

Trump’s legal team filed a response to the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, opposing the administration’s demands and calling the Justice Department’s investigation “unprecedented and misguided.”

In the 40-page document, Trump’s lawyers said the court should not believe that the Justice Department said the roughly 100 documents in question were in fact still classified, and said the special director should be allowed to review the documents as a move toward “Restore order from chaos.”

Under Cannon’s order to appoint Dilly as a special master, she asked him to complete his review by the end of November. She directed him to prioritize documents marked classified, even though her process requires that Trump’s lawyers, who may not have the necessary security clearances, review them.

The Justice Department described the special main process as unnecessary because it had conducted its own review of attorney-client privilege and set aside about 500 pages that might qualify. It opposed the executive privilege review, saying any such assertion of the record would fail.

The August FBI search came after Trump left the office with documents belonging to the government, which were not returned despite repeated requests and subpoenas.

It is unclear whether the government has all the records. The Justice Department said some classified material may still be missing after the FBI recovered empty folders with classification markings from Mar-a-Lago.

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Reporting by Karen Freifeld, Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama

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