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Special Master Sets Timeline for Mar-a-Lago Material Review

The special master ordered Trump’s team to resolve any ‘factual disputes’ by the end of the month and requested the help of a retired federal judge in his review.

Special Master Outlines Mar-a-Lago Plan

Pages from a Department of Justice court filing on Aug. 30, 2022, in response to a request from the legal team of former President Donald Trump for a special master to review the documents seized during the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago, are photographed early Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.(Jon Elswick/AP)

A court-appointed special master set a timeline and outlined his plan for the review of the materials retrieved by the FBI from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate on Thursday.

Senior District Judge Raymond Dearie gave Trump’s team until the end of the month to “raise any factual dispute” as to what was – and was not – taken from Mar-a-Lago in the Aug. 8 search, seeming to point to Trump’s claim that the FBI had planted evidence at his Florida residence.

Dearie also orders Trump’s team and the government to provide an annotated copy of a spreadsheet with each document specified, while Trump’s team must mark for each whether the former president asserts attorney-client or executive privilege or whether he believes the document falls under the Presidential Record Act. For any document that falls under one of those designations, Dearie says, Trump’s team must include a brief statement explaining its reasoning.

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Disputes between the two parties over the designations will be decided on a rolling basis, Dearie outlined, but a final log of the disputed designations must be submitted by each party by Oct. 21 – well ahead of a Nov. 30 deadline originally set for the special master to complete his review, which stood to take some of the politically advantageous wind out of the sails of Democrats in the midterm election.

It remains unclear how long Dearie will take for his review following the conclusion of his latest timeline. But the order outlines a quicker-than-expected process, likely against the wishes of Trump’s team.

In a filing earlier this week, Trump’s team detailed its grievances with a drafted plan by Dearie – one of which was an earlier Oct. 7 deadline for the completion of his review. The former president’s attorneys argued that Cannon’s original timeline would “allow for a more realistic and complete assessment of the areas of disagreement.”

Dearie on Thursday also requested the help of James Orenstein, a retired federal judge appointed by former President George W. Bush whom Dearie says holds a top secret clearance and experience with complex case management, privilege review and warrant procedures.

The development comes after a federal appeals court panel on Wednesday granted the Justice Department’s request to block part of District Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling preventing the government from carrying out part of its investigation involving documents marked as classified retrieved by the FBI at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate.

The appeals court decided in the Justice Department’s favor, although it noted that its decision is on the narrow question of whether the government may continue its investigation involving around 100 classified documents alone – and not on the merits of the case at large. The panel also determined that sharing the classified documents with the special master would cause “irreparable harm.”

The three-judge panel wrote that Trump “does not have a possessory interest in the documents at issue, so he does not suffer a cognizable harm if the United States reviews documents he neither owns nor has a personal interest in.” The panel also suggested that they doubted the claim from Trump’s team that the former president would be harmed by a criminal investigation, while noting that because of the nature of the classified materials, the use of the materials by DOJ does not pose a risk of disclosure of Trump’s privileged information.

Trump’s legal team and the Justice Department met with Dearie on Tuesday in their first conference over the handling and review of materials. On Thursday, Dearie set the parties’ next meeting for Oct. 6.

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