Judge asks Trump's lawyers if he declassified records in FBI search
The U.S. judge named to review documents seized by the FBI last month at Donald Trump's Florida home pressed Trump's lawyers on Tuesday to say whether they plan to assert that the records had been declassified by the former president, as he has claimed.
Judge Raymond Dearie - serving as an independent arbiter, or special master, to vet the more than 11,000 seized documents and potentially recommend keeping some away from federal investigators - asked Trump's lawyers why he should not consider records marked classified as genuinely classified.
"If the government gives me prima facie evidence (a legal term meaning a fact presumed to be true unless disproved) that this is classified, and you decide not to advance a claim of declassification ... as far as I'm concerned that's the end of it," Dearie told Trump's lawyers in his first public hearing on the matter.
Dearie, a senior federal judge in Brooklyn who Trump's lawyers recommended to serve as special master, did not issue a ruling.
Roughly 100 of the documents seized in the court-approved Aug. 8 search at Trump's home in the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach had classified markings. Trump's attorney James Trusty told Dearie it is too early to say Trump had used his powers while still president to declassify the documents - a stance that Dearie suggested weakened the claim.
"You can't have your cake and eat it," the judge said.
The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Trump for retaining government records, some marked as highly classified including top secret, at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office in January 2021. Trump has denied wrongdoing and has said without providing evidence that the investigation is a partisan attack.
Trump has said in social media posts that he declassified the records, but his lawyers have skirted the issue in court.
(With Reuters inputs)