The special master reviewing Mar-a-Lago docs again criticized Trump’s arguments Tuesday.
Judge Raymond Dearie accused Trump’s lawyers of making contradictory claims.
Trump pushed for Dearie to be appointed, but it’s a decision that visibly backfired.
Former President Donald Trump pushed hard to have a so-called “special master” appointed in his legal fight over the documents seized by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago.
But as the case continues, that decision is looking more and more like a mistake after the official — Judge Raymond Dearie — took repeated swipes that undermined Trump’s case.
The latest move came this week, when Dearie in a conference call needled Trump for offering a threadbare argument that some of the documents taken were covered by legal privilege and should be returned.
Trump’s supporters initially hailed Dearie’s appointment as a major win that would add months of delay to the Department of Justice investigation into Trump’s handling of the Mar-a-Lago documents.
The reality has been different: in court appearances Dearie has undermined the legal arguments Trump’s lawyers have put forward, and embarrassed them with challenges to justify some of Trump’s bombast.
On Tuesday, he expressed frustration at the lack of evidence Trump’s lawyers presented provided for why some of the documents should be considered privileged, which would prevent the DOJ from scrutinizing them.
“It’s a little perplexing as I go through the log,” Dearie said of the lack of facts offered by Trump’s legal team, per The New York Times. “What’s the expression? ‘Where’s the beef?’ I need some beef.”
He later criticized an apparent contradiction in their argument, saying that there were claiming both that the records were private — and by definition not government property — and that they were covered by executive privilege, which only applies to government records.
“There’s a certain incongruity there,” Dearie said. “Perhaps plaintiff’s counsel will address that in a submission.”
The DOJ believes that Trump may have broken the law in retaining thousands of government documents, including classified information, after leaving office.
Trump has rejected the claims, arguing without evidence that the FBI planted evidence, and also that he is allowed to keep the documents because he declassified them.
His lawyers have focused on the narrower claim that the documents are shielded under privilege rules.
In earlier hearings, Dearie has pushed Trump’s lawyers to provide evidence to back the claims Trump’s made in public.
Dearie in September questioned why they hadn’t produced evidence in support of his claim he declassified documents before leaving office.
In reply Trump’s legal team shied away from answering, saying that presenting the evidence could imperil his defense in a potential trial.
Dearie also pushed them to back the claim evidence was planted, but none was forthcoming.
It highlighted the discrepancy between the claims Trump has made to his supporters in attacking the investigation, and those his lawyers are prepared to defend in court, where knowingly making false claims can incur legal penalties.
Aileen Cannon, the main judge in the Mar-a-Lago case overruled Dearie when he pushed Trump’s lawyers to provide the evidence by a specific deadline, shielding them from a further pitfall.
But as Dearie continues to complicate life for Trump’s lawyers, it is hard to see what they have gained from insisting that he be part of the high-stakes case.
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