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Trump Records Review Can Be Done in a Month in DOJ Plan (2)

Sept. 20, 2022, 1:50 PM

Records seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Florida home can be reviewed by a neutral third party at a rate of about 500 documents each business day, the US Justice Department said in a court filing, as the former president’s lawyers sought to put off a formal claim that he declassified them.

Lawyers for Trump and the government on Monday night each made proposals for how New York federal judge Raymond Dearie, who was selected as “special master” to perform the review, will conduct the process. Dearie will discuss details of the plan at a hearing in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday afternoon.

The Justice Department proposed that a third-party vendor be hired to scan and upload the roughly 11,000 documents to a secure and customizable database in the presence of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents. The vendor can then release the documents on a rolling basis to Trump’s lawyers for their review, the government said. That process would take about a month.

The review requires Trump to categorize the seized materials as presidential records or personal records, assert any privileges that the former president believes apply, and record those positions document-by-document in logs. Dearie will ultimately issue recommendations on disputes over privilege.

“The vast majority of documents should be easy to categorize as presidential or personal records,” the DOJ said in the filing.

Photo of documents from Trump’s home submitted as evidence by the Department of Justice in federal court in Florida.
Source: Department of Justice

But Trump’s lawyers proposed that the process be slowed down after Dearie suggested the documents be categorized by Oct. 7.

“We respectfully suggest that all of the deadlines can be extended to allow for a more realistic and complete assessment of the areas of disagreement,” Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing. “We would suggest a status conference in roughly two weeks to gauge how long the inspection process and rolling categorizations are taking.”

The special-master case has emerged as a major obstacle to the Justice Department’s criminal probe into whether Trump broke any laws by carting away dozens of boxes of White House records after leaving office, including hundreds of documents with classified markings. The review could trigger even more litigation if the parties disagree with Dearie’s findings, even as Trump weighs a possible 2024 run for the White House.

Trump’s lawyers offered their own ideas about the process in a separate filing Monday night. They argued the former president should not be forced to reveal during the review process whether he intends to claim that he declassified any of the highly sensitive documents that were seized -- one of the defenses being deployed by Trump and his allies in public remarks.

“Otherwise, the special master process will have forced the plaintiff to fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident in the district court’s order,” Trump’s lawyer James Trusty said in the filing.

Trump also opposed compressing the time line for the review of the documents, saying it should be done on a schedule to comply with a Nov. 30 deadline set out by a Florida judge.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon issued an order late Thursday appointing Dearie as special master, after earlier granting Trump’s request for the neutral review. The government has said Trump had no right to such a review and appealed part of the order that blocks investigators from using about 100 seized documents bearing classified markings in their ongoing criminal probe.

Read More: Trump Documents Will Be Reviewed by Retiring Judge, Court Says

(Updates with Trump’s request to extend deadlines for categorizing documents)

To contact the reporter on this story:
Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Katia Porzecanski at kporzecansk1@bloomberg.net

Peter Blumberg, Steve Stroth

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.