DOJ, Trump lawyers meet with special master in Mar-a-Lago case; Trump’s team admit indictment possible. Four Ukrainian regions set votes to join Russia this week.
DOJ, Trump lawyers meet in special master’s court in Mar-a-Lago case
Today, Justice Department attorneys and lawyers representing former President Donald Trump are meeting in a Brooklyn courtroom to discuss the next steps in the investigation of classified documents seized from Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago. The courtroom is that of District Judge Raymond Dearie who was appointed last week to serve as a neutral arbiter, or “special master” in the case. Dearie’s task is to review the seized documents to determine if any are subject to attorney-client privilege. Per the order of Judge Aileen Cannon of Florida, a Trump appointee, Dearie will also determine whether any of the documents may be subject to executive privilege as well.
Last week, the Justice Department appealed to the federal 11th Circuit Court to stay several orders issued by Cannon in recent weeks. In a ruling described by Trump’s own former Attorney General Bill Barr as “deeply flawed”, Cannon ordered the DOJ to halt using the seized documents in their criminal investigation of Trump’s mishandling of classified material. Then on Friday, Cannon issued a similarly controversial ruling requiring the DOJ to turn over the classified documents to Trump’s team for review.
The DOJ’s has asked the 11th Circuit to lift Cannon’s prohibition on using the documents in their criminal probe. They’ve also asked the 11th Circuit to strike the requirement to hand over highly sensitive classified documents to Trump’s attorneys, who do not have the requisite classification clearance. Trump’s team have responded, urging the 11th Circuit not to grant DOJ’s motions.
Trump’s team admit indictment possible
In his capacity as special master, Judge Dearie has asked Trump’s team to present him with evidence regarding the classification status of the documents. Trump has claimed publicly that he had de-classified the documents before leaving office. While sitting presidents do have this authority, there’s no evidence to date that Trump undertook the necessary bureaucratic de-classification procedure.
Despite Trump’s claims, his legal team have refrained from claiming in court that Trump did declassify the documents. By making that claim in court, they could be subject to sanctions for lying. Nevertheless, Cannon wrote in her order that she “does not find it appropriate to accept the government’s conclusions” as to whether the documents were classified or not.
However, Trump’s team have resisted answering Dearie’s questions about this de-classification claim. This is extraordinary, since it was Trump’s team that asked for a special master in the first place and Dearie was their pick. Their reasoning for not complying with Dearie’s request is that Trump should not be forced “to fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment”, an apparent acknowledgement that Trump is facing a possible indictment.
Four Ukrainian regions set votes to join Russia this week
After losing considerable ground in the east following a Ukrainian offensive, pro-Russian leaders in occupied regions of Ukraine have scheduled votes this week on referendums to join Russia. The votes will take place in Luhansk and Donetsk in the east and Zaporizhzhia and Kherson in the south.
Luhansk and Donetsk are part of the largely pro-Russian Donbas region and both declared themselves independent republics before the invasion. Zaporizhzhia is home to a nuclear plant that Russia has been occupying for months. Zaporizhzhia’s neighbor to the west, Kherson, is next to Crimea, which the Russians have been occupying since 2014.
Russia has successfully occupied Luhansk and Kherson, but their control in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk is shaky at best. The recent Ukrainian offensive, and the prospect of more to come, has increased pressure in Moscow to accelerate their timeline for a referendum. Russia’s grip on local populations and politics means these referendums are all but certain to come out in Russia’s favor.
Following this vote, fighting in the regions is likely to escalate and become even bloodier. Ukraine and the West will not recognize the referendums, but Russia will have a veneer of justification to defend these territories by any means necessary.
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