DOJ officials are arguing that they must have access to unclassified material confiscated at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and resort by the FBI earlier this month to better assess the classified — including top secret — files they’re examining. They also need to examine all the records for possible clues as to how the documents may have been transported and accessed, officials said.
Unclassified material is currently off limits to the Justice Department as the files are first supposed to be examined by former U.S. Judge Raymond Dearie, who was named special master — at Trump’s request — by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump.
Cannon had initially blocked Department of Justice access to all records seized at Mar-a-Lago. But in a blow to Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled last week that the Justice Department can resume reviewing the seized classified records, blocking a portion of a stay issued earlier by Cannon. The appeals court also prohibited Dearie from vetting the documents marked classified.
Yet Department of Justice officials argued in a motion filed Friday that the appointment of the special master is still hindering its investigation into what could have dire consequences for national security.
On Thursday, Cannon moved the deadline for Dearie’s completed review from mid-November to mid-December, which would serve Republican interests to put off damaging information until after the midterm elections. The DOJ is pushing to move up the appeal process to mid-November.
Dearie is supposed to be examining the unclassified documents to determine if any are protected by attorney-client — or executive — privilege.
Meanwhile, the “government is … unable to examine [unclassified] records that were commingled with materials bearing classification markings, including records that may shed light on … how the materials bearing classification markings were transferred to Plaintiff’s residence, how they were stored, and who may have accessed them,” said the DOJ filing with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The records not marked as classified may also constitute evidence of potential [obstruction] and [concealment or removal of government records],” noted the motion, which was first reported by Politico.
The filing also attacked Cannon’s recent rulings against Dearie.
Cannon ruled Thursday that Trump could ignore Dearie’s demand that his legal team either prove Trump’s apparently baseless claim that the FBI “planted” records at Mar-a-Lago, or drop the claim.
Yet Cannon’s ruling appeared to contradict her own earlier ruling giving Dearie power over his review.
Several legal experts have sharply criticized the logic behind Cannon’s decisions. Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said on MSNBC Thursday that she should be removed from the bench. “She’s unfit to serve,” he said.
He pointed out that Cannon has reversed her own ruling granted Dearie power as a special master.