U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie, who is acting as a special master in the Mar-a-Lago documents case, on Thursday demanded that Donald Trump’s lawyers substantiate another one of the former president’s claims: that the FBI “planted” records.
Dearie ordered Trump’s legal team to submit by Sept. 30 a list of of specific items in the Justice Department’s 11-page inventory of documents taken from the Mar-a-Lago resort — including top secret files — that “plaintiff asserts were not seized from the premises.” They must also submit a list of any items seized that were not on the inventory, the order states.
“This submission shall be Plaintiff’s final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the Detailed Property Inventory,” Dearie said.
Trump has claimed repeatedly that FBI agents “planted” records at Mar-a-Lago when they seized several boxes of documents last month at his private club and residence. The boxes had been stashed there by the former president when he left office in January 2021. “Planting information, anyone?” Trump asked on his Truth Social platform after records were confiscated, likely before he had seen the inventory list.
Yet Trump also said that he and members of his family watched on surveillance cameras as agents searched Mar-a-Lago and removed materials, raising the question of how the FBI could have secretly planted evidence at the same time. Two lawyers for Trump were also at Mar-a-Lago during the search, and one signed off on a list of boxes and “miscellaneous top secret documents” that were removed.
Trump’s lawyers have not claimed in any legal filings that evidence was planted. Nor have Trump’s lawyers claimed that any of the documents were declassified by the former president before they were taken from the White House — as Trump has insisted.
Only Trump’s staunch ally and former Pentagon official Kash Patel has publicly backed Trump’s claim that he had issued a “standing order” to declassify anything removed from the White House. Trump insisted in an interview Wednesday with Fox News host Sean Hannity that he didn’t need to follow any process to do so and had the power to declassify documents merely by “thinking about it.”
Dearie on Tuesday ordered Trump’s legal team to substantiate his claims that he had declassified any of the files he’d taken. Trump’s lawyers have not presented Trump position on that either in any legal filings.
Lawyers have argued that they don’t want to make a declassification case before an actual trial. But Dearie warned that if they won’t even assert records were declassified and the Justice Department demonstrates they were, then “as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of it.”
He added: “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”
A special master was appointed at Trump’s request to review about 11,000 pages of documents to determine if any should be shielded by attorney-client or or executive privilege. Dearie’s name was submitted by Trump’s legal team.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled Wednesday that the Justice Department can resume reviewing the seized classified records, blocking a portion of a stay issued earlier by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon. The appeals court also prohibited Dearie from vetting the documents marked classified.
Cannon, whose decision in Trump’s favor protecting the records seized at Mar-a-Lago has been criticized by several legal experts, has amended her own order. It now states that material subject to a special master review no longer includes the “approximately one-hundred documents bearing classification markings.”