WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Donald Trump urged a federal appeals court Thursday to leave in place an independent arbiter who was assigned to review documents seized by the FBI in an August search of the former president’s Florida estate.
The Trump team said in a filing that veteran Brooklyn judge Raymond Dearie should continue in his role as a so-called special master in order to ensure public confidence in an investigation involving a “political rival” of the Biden administration.
“Given the significance of this investigation, it must be conducted in a manner that gives the public confidence in its outcome,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “The Court should simply not allow the Government to cloak these proceedings from public view based on its unverified assertions.”
The scope of Dearie’s duties, and the basis for his appointment, have been points of contention between the Justice Department and the Trump legal team since he was named to the job in September.
He was assigned by a Trump-appointed judge to inspect the thousands of documents seized during the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago and weed out from the investigation any records that might be covered by claims of executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.
The Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had already curtailed part of Dearie’s work, saying the Justice Department did not have to submit for his review the roughly 100 documents with classification markings that taken during the search. The court limited his review instead to non-classified records, which the Justice Department says totals about 13,000 documents, that the FBI seized.
The Justice Department last month asked the appeals court to shut down the entire special master review process, saying it was an unnecessary impediment to its investigation. The government argued that Trump had no credible basis to claim that the seized documents were protected either by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.
But the Trump team pushed back on those arguments, asserting Thursday that a special master was essential both to evaluate any claims of privilege and to determine which of the seized records are personal documents that should be returned to him.
“The Government has not proffered any evidence its criminal investigation has been hampered during the Special Master review process,” the lawyers wrote. “There is thus no compelling reason to permit the continuation of an investigation of President Trump by the administration of his political rival without the District Court’s limited judicial oversight.”
Meanwhile, the criminal investigation into the handling of the documents is moving forward even as Trump makes plans to announce another bid for the White House.
Last week, Kash Patel, a close ally who has claimed he was present with Trump as Trump declassified certain documents as president, testified before a federal grand jury after being given immunity by the Justice Department.