Lawyers representing former President Donald Trump in his challenge to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) retrieval of government documents from his Mar-a-Lago home are refusing to answer questions from special master Judge Raymond Dearie regarding the accuracy of a list of items found at the estate.
Last week, Dearie instructed Trump’s lawyers to respond to a generalized list of documents the DOJ found at the Palm Beach, Florida, estate, requesting that they state whether or not they believed it provided a truthful account of the materials that were removed.
Dearie’s demand required Trump’s lawyers to discuss in detail why they believed certain items, if any, were inaccurate, and if they believed items had been planted by FBI agents during the search — a claim that Trump has made publicly numerous times, though his lawyers have not introduced the idea in court hearings or briefs so far.
In a letter filed publicly on Wednesday by Trump’s legal team, the lawyers said they will not answer the question posed by Dearie, and claimed that federal Judge Aileen Cannon’s order establishing Dearie’s role as special master doesn’t require them to do so.
It’s unclear what will happen next, as Dearie hasn’t yet addressed the objection from Trump’s lawyers.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that the FBI may have planted evidence while conducting the search, though he has never provided any evidence whatsoever to back up those claims. In a Truth Social post just days after the search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago, Trump suggested that the FBI was potentially trying to frame him for a crime.
“Everyone was asked to leave the premises,” Trump wrote. “They wanted to be alone without any witnesses to see what they were doing, taking or, hopefully not, ‘planting.'”
The refusal by Trump’s legal team to discuss whether or not they believe the DOJ’s inventory list is accurate could delay the special master’s work, but it won’t impede at least part of the DOJ’s investigation into Trump’s mishandling of documents.
Originally, Cannon had ruled that Trump’s dubious privilege claims should be entertained while the special master did their work, and ordered the Justice Department to cease examination of more than 100 classified documents they had found at Mar-a-Lago in August. The DOJ sued in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel overturned that part of Cannon’s order, allowing the department to continue examining materials that had classified markings.
“[Trump] does not have a possessory interest in the documents at issue, so he does not suffer a cognizable harm if the United States reviews documents he neither owns nor has a personal interest in,” the appeals court said.
Additionally, the ruling from the circuit court stated that Cannon “abused [her] discretion in exercising jurisdiction … as it concerns the classified documents”
“We cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings,” the panel said.
Trump’s legal team has not yet indicated whether they plan to appeal the 11th Circuit Court’s ruling, either through an en banc decision involving all of the judges on that appellate court or by taking the matter directly to the Supreme Court to decide.