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Special Master Sets Aggressive Schedule as Mar-a-Lago Document Dispute Between Trump and DOJ Heads for December Clash

Donald Trump, Merrick Garland

Donald Trump, Attorney General Merrick Garland

The special master overseeing former President Donald Trump’s dispute with the federal government over a cache of marked-as-classified documents has just established a timetable for how and when the case will move forward in the coming days and weeks.

In a brief scheduling order posted on the federal docket late Monday evening, Special Master Raymond J. Dearie announced that he was planning to consult the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration later this month in order to ascertain the agency’s “practices and guidance documents concerning the categorization of materials under the Presidential Records Act.”

Dearie’s inquiry is premised on a section of the court order establishing his power to oversee the ongoing document dispute between the 45th president and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The order by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, notes, in relevant part:

In categorizing Seized Materials as personal items/documents or Presidential Records, the Special Master may consult with the National Archives and Records Administration…

In advance of the NARA consultation, Dearie asked for Trump and DOJ attorneys, if they wish to be heard, to submit a letter of no more than three pages by this coming Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022.

Trump successfully petitioned the reviewing court to appoint the special master after claiming that some of the documents seized by FBI agents from his Mar-a-Lago home in August actually belonged to him personally – and may touch upon attorney-client privilege issues.

The appointment of the special master confounded legal experts. The DOJ has expressed severe reservations with the state of affairs – even going so far as to warn about potential national security concerns – and has appealed the order granting Dearie authority over the matter.

The process, so far, has been slow-moving and time-consuming. In a conference call with attorneys for both sides last month, the special master expressed doubt about the ex-president’s privilege claims.

“It’s a little perplexing as I go through the log,” Dearie reportedly said. “What’s the expression — ‘Where’s the beef?’ I need some beef.”

After that light dressing down, attorneys for Trump and the DOJ reached a compromise on two distinct document categories. That resolution was catalogued in a late October letter from the DOJ.

The large collection of documents culled from the FBI raid has been spit into several batches for review by an internal DOJ filter team referred to as “Filter A,” “Filter B,” and “Filter C” materials.

“[Trump] withdraws his initial claims of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product doctrine with respect to the following Filter A and C Materials,” the DOJ letter says, nothing, that in regard to the documents in those filter groups, “[Trump] previously did not assert attorney-client privilege or attorney work product doctrine.”

In the Monday order, Dearie also scheduled a status hearing for Dec. 1, 2022. That hearing, the special master notes, “will be an opportunity for the parties to elaborate upon their respective positions.”

The arguments advanced during that hearing are likely to be high-stakes. Dearie anticipates an aggressive schedule immediately thereafter – his report and recommendations are currently slated to be released on Dec. 16, 2022.

[Images via Seth Herald/Getty Images, Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images]

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