On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Raymond Dearie, who is acting as “special master” in Donald Trump’s attempt to claim ownership over documents seized in an FBI search at his Mar-a-Lago club, conducted a conference call that was supposed to be restricted to dealing with a small portion of the documents. In this case, the call was aimed only at those documents that had already been culled by the FBI “filter team” that was set up to find documents potentially protected by client-attorney privilege and which the Department of Justice has already excluded from their investigations. However, the conversation soon sprawled to all parts of the special master process, and during this conversation Dearie made it exceptionally clear that his patience is beyond exhausted.
For everyone who spent a week contorting hyperspace in an effort to explain how 200,000 pages could fit into 32 small boxes, we finally got an answer as to how many pages were really in all those documents: 21,792. That greatly reduced number didn’t stop Trump’s team from once again asking for more time.
Trump’s attorney also submitted a preliminary list of documents pulled by the filter team that Trump believed should be returned to him under some form of privilege. Except what Trump’s legal team failed to provide was any details to support why those documents should not be part of the DOJ’s investigation. “It’s a little perplexing,” The New York Times reported that Judge Dearie said on the call. “As I go through the log. What’s the expression? Where’s the beef? I need some beef.”
The reasons listed on what was apparently a quite skimpy list from Trump attorney Jim Trusty caused Judge Dearie more than one headache. For example, there was one document that Trump claimed was “personal property” and was also covered by executive privilege. Dearie challenged Trusty concerning how it was possible that a document could fall into both these categories. As reported by CNN, Dearie said, “Unless I’m wrong—and I’ve been wrong before—there’s certainly an incongruity there.”
It may take someone of a certain age to remember the ad campaign to which Dearie was referring when he mentioned “beef,” but it doesn’t take any background in either advertising or law to understand his frustration. Trump was apparently doing what he always does: throw things against the wall to see if something will stick. Or at least, if something will clog up progress.
Dearie also noted that some of the documents that Trump was claiming as protected by attorney-client privilege didn’t seem to be sourced from an attorney. Trusty promised to get back the judge on how a document from a third party could still be protected, which should be an interesting—or, at least, funny—legal claim when it arrives.
At one point Trusty claimed that a letter written to the Department of Justice itself should be considered private. When Dearie asked how that was possible, Trusty said because the letter was unsigned, and had not been sent. Dearie asked the DOJ to check and see if they had received a copy of the letter before looking into it further. “I don’t want to be dealing with nonsense objections and nonsense assertions,” said Dearie, “especially when I have one month to deal with who knows how many assertions.”
During that call, Trump attorney Jim Trusty also insisted that they needed another 10 days to review the files before making any claims of privilege. This is after District Court Judge Aileen Cannon already granted Trump what he wanted by halting Dearie’s earlier proposal for “rolling submissions,” or dealing with the collection of documents in a series of groups, insisting that everything come in at once, and extending the end of the process until November 30. The request didn’t meet with any enthusiasm.
During the call, Dearie tried to get some sense of just how many claims he was going to be reviewing as special master. Did he need to hire additional staff? Out of the 11,000 documents, was Trump going to claim privilege over 10, or was it going to be 10,000? Trusty didn’t seem prepared to answer this question. He also wasn’t prepared to provide Dearie with such basic information as a list of Trump’s past and current attorneys, so that names could be checked against claims of attorney-client privilege.
When it comes to the greatly reduced number of pages, the DOJ had a simple explanation: a consultant hired to scan documents had taken the 11,000 documents and multiplied by 18, which is a typical length for business documents. However, the DOJ attorney acknowledge that not only was the real number much smaller, but that 200,000 documents would not have even fit in the 32 boxes removed from the site.
On this week's episode of The Downballot we get medieval on the traditional media for its appalling display of ableism in the wake of John Fetterman's recent NBC interview; recap the absolutely wild goings-on in Los Angeles, where City Council President Nury Martinez just resigned after a racist tirade was caught on tape; dive into the unexpectedly close race for governor in Oklahoma; and highlight a brand-new database from Daily Kos Elections showing how media markets and congressional districts overlap.