(Bloomberg) — The special master reviewing documents seized from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate warned the former president’s lawyers that their initial efforts to claim certain records were personal and not presidential might be lacking enough detail.
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“Where’s the beef? I need some beef,” US District Senior Judge Raymond Dearie told the attorneys during a telephone status hearing Tuesday.
Dearie also suggested there was a “certain incongruity” to Trump’s lawyers claiming so far that at least one document was both personal to Trump and covered by executive privilege, a protection that applies to government information.
Dearie chastised lawyers for Trump and the Justice Department for a dispute over a document Trump says is shielded by a privilege for legal materials. It’s an unsigned June 2017 letter from Trump’s personal law firm at the time to form special counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to a mistakenly unsealed list of materials previously reported by Bloomberg News.
Both sides sparred over who was responsible for confirming whether Trump’s attorneys actually sent the letter to the government. A Justice Department lawyer said it was the Trump team’s fault for not providing more fulsome information. One of Trump’s lawyers said the government would know if they had the document in their possession, suggesting there was “gamesmanship” afoot.
“I have no patience for either one of you on this point,” the judge warned, directing them to sort out what he considered to be a factual issue of whether it was sent or not.
“I don’t want to be dealing with nonsense objections,” Dearie said.
Dearie is reviewing an early list of disputes over a small subset of documents flagged as potentially privileged by a special government filter team. He said that neither side provided him with enough facts to make recommendations about Trump’s claims that certain documents are protected attorney-client communications or other legal work.
From Trump’s team, Dearie said he needed names of the former president’s personal lawyers and when they worked for him, details about any possible litigation related to a particular document, and whether evidence that a third party was involved with a document meant it couldn’t be privileged.
Dearie indicated he was skeptical of Trump’s claim that another set of documents flagged by the filter team was privileged, saying they didn’t appear to be drafted by his lawyers or feature legal advice. Dearie didn’t specify what those documents were about, but the page numbers he listed matched entries in the filter team log for documents related to Trump’s possible grants of executive clemency while he was president.
Personal or Privileged
Trump has argued in court that at least some government records should be off limits in the federal criminal probe because they should be considered “personal” under the Presidential Records Act or covered by executive privilege. Dearie indicated he would need more information from Trump’s lawyers to support such claims, saying the entries in the log he had received so far were “perplexing,” prompting his “beef” quip.
A complete log is due to Dearie by Nov. 12 of any records from more than 21,700 pages seized from Mar-a-Lago that Trump and the government disagree about shielding from investigators.
Dearie expressed “concern” that US District Judge Aileen Cannon, the south Florida jurist who appointed the special master, rejected his proposal for the parties to review documents in smaller batches and list disputes on a rolling basis. He said he didn’t know if there would be “10 or 10,000” areas of disagreement and was worried about having enough staff to go through them all before his Dec. 16 deadline.
Although he had no power to change Cannon’s timetable, he asked the parties to informally give him an early estimate of what to expect. He’ll submit recommendations about document disputes to Cannon, who will make the final rulings.
(Updated with more information from the hearing.)
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