Legal experts explain why Trump's demand for a special master 'really backfired'
Donald Trump holds a press conference at Trump Turnberry. (Shutterstock.com)

Among those in the audience for the first hearing of Donald Trump's hand-picked special master was a former adviser and prosecutor to Robert Mueller, Andrew Weissmann, who described the court as finally being run by an "adult in the room," referring to Judge Raymond Dearie.

New York University law professor Ryan Goodman, who also writes at Just Security, made it clear that the demand to appoint a special master “royally backfired on Trump."

"It really was put up or shut up, but it was said in a judicial, Judge Dearie way," Weissmann said of the 35-minute hearing.

Weissmann went on to cite Dearing saying to the Trump team that they might have reasons and strategy for why they won't tell him whether the documents were declassified, "but if you don't do that, I have, in front of me, a prima facie case. Meaning, the government has set forth sufficient evidence that these are classified, for God's sake, they bear markings that say they're classified. So, he said, if you don't want to actually say anything at this point, that's fine, but I'm going to rule. And that was really the theme of the hearing."

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At one point they began talking about whether people needed to have a certain classification or clearance to see the top secret documents and top secret compartmented documents.

Weissmann said Dearie explained, "I may be able to decide this issue where I don't even need to see them. That we don't have to get into that issue. He didn't say that's what he's definitely going to rule, he wants to hear from the parties, et cetera. But it seems pretty clear in terms of his thinking that he's going down the road of, if these are classified documents, and I have no contrary evidence, then that sort of leads to a conclusion which is, I'm not returning these documents to you. So, if you don't put up, then you're not going to get the relief that you're seeking, which is to have the documents returned to you."

Interestingly, the Trump team began explaining to the judge he had a classification level due to a Virginia trial. The fact that Trump's team indicated that they would need to have a clearance level to see the documents dramatically undermines the claim that Trump had declassified the documents.

Judge Dearie also made it clear that operating on the assumption that the documents were classified in the way that they were marked, and having no evidence to the contrary, he said they have an obligation to ensure the information isn't needlessly exposed.

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Weismann characterized the statement as Dearie's way of making it clear, "You're not in Florida anymore."

Another of Trump's lawyer's comments dealt with the National Archives and that Trump and his team are trying to paint them as some partisan political organization. The Archives is a museum that houses America's founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They're responsible for housing all of the documents of presidents of the past and working with presidential libraries to ensure Americans always have access to history. Weissmann said it's like saying the public library is a political outfit.

Dearie, he said, made it clear that it's not necessary for Judge Aileen Cannon or anyone to speak with the Archives yet and urged the Trump team "in his very polite way, he said, of course, I do think, you know, you might be painting with a broad brush there."

"He, at the outset, made it clear, he said, you may have, Trump team, you may have litigation reasons and strategy as to why you don't want to tell me or the world in a court of law that these documents are classified. That's fine."

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