Trump Lawyers in Mar-a-Lago Case Must Turn in Records, Court of Appeals Says

A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that an attorney representing former President Donald J. Trump in an investigation into his handling of classified material must provide prosecutors with what may be dozens of documents relating to his legal work for Trump.

The US Court of Appeals ruling for the District of Columbia came out after a series of flash filings that began late Tuesday when Trump sought an injunction to stop the attorney, M. Evan Corcoran, from turning over documents to investigators.

The behind-the-scenes legal battle continued through the night into the early hours of Wednesday, with prosecutors responding to Trump's request to adjourn the case with papers submitted before dawn. It played out as a separate legal proceeding involving Mr Trump – the Manhattan district attorney's consideration of whether to seek indictment of the former president on charges related to paying hush money to a porn actress – remains unresolved.

The battle in Washington over Mr. Corcoran in the case documents show that prosecutors are working to gather evidence that Mr. Trump could commit a crime in resisting government efforts to reclaim classified material he took with him after leaving office. White House.

As a matter of law, litigation — all of which are conducted behind closed doors or under seal — involves a balancing act between attorney-client privileges, which generally protect lawyers from divulging private communications with their clients to the government, and a special provision of law known as the crime-fighting exception. fraud. That exception allows prosecutors to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in continuing a crime.

The spat started last month when the office of special counsel, Jack Smith, attempted to bypass attorney-client privilege assertions that Mr Corcoran and Mr Trump had made in an investigation of documents. In his initial appearance before the grand jury investigating the case, Mr. Corcoran has asserted the privilege as a way of limiting the scope of questions he has to answer as well as the number of legal records he has to submit.

But in an effort to get as much information out of Mr. Corcoran, Mr. Smith asked for a felony fraud exception in his filing with Judge Beryl A. Howell, who sits on the Federal District Court in Washington. The prosecutor working for Mr. Smith wants Judge Howell to waive attorney-client privilege and force Mr. Corcoran to give them what they want.

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On Friday, Judge Howell issued a ruling saying that the administration had indeed met the threshold for seeking a felony fraud exemption and that prosecutors had made their initial case that Trump had broken the law in the document case. As part of his decision, he ordered Mr. Corcoran to turn over most of the legal documents he was trying to withhold and return to the grand jury to answer prosecutors' questions more fully.

But on Tuesday night, as Corcoran began preparing to comply with the judge's order, Trump's lawyers asked the appeals court to postpone the decision as they seek to reverse some or all of his decision. The appeals court granted the initial temporary suspension of the ruling and set a very aggressive timetable for the case, telling Trump to file papers by midnight and the administration to file a response by 6 a.m. on Wednesday.

Although the case has now gone through two different courts and resulted in several rounds of dueling, it remains unclear what crimes the government believes have been committed – or who may have committed them.

However, among the subjects the Justice Department has been examining since last year is whether Trump or his associates obstructed justice by failing to meet repeated demands to return government property he took from the White House after leaving office. , including hundreds of documents marked secret.

In May, before Mr. Smith took over the investigation as special counsel, federal prosecutors issuing subpoenas for every classified document still in Trump's possession — after he voluntarily submitted an initial set of records to the National Archives that included nearly 200 classified documents.

Responding to the subpoena, Mr. Corcoran met with federal investigators in June and provided them with another set of documents, more than 30 of which bore classification marks. He later drafted a statement for other attorneys to provide to the Justice Department saying that a “diligent search” had been conducted at Mar-a-Lago, Mr Trump's Florida club and residence, and that no classified material remained there.

In August, FBI agents armed with search warrants searched Mar-a-Lago. The search turned up three classified documents on a desk inside Trump's office, with more than 100 documents in 13 boxes or containers with classification marks at the residence, including some at the strictest levels.

About three weeks after meeting Mr. Corcorating with investigators In June, federal prosecutors issued yet another subpoena — this time for surveillance footage from a camera near a storage room at Mar-a-Lago. Among the subjects that Mr. Smith wants Mr. Corcoran testified about was a phone call he had with Mr. Trump around the time the subpoena for the videotape was issued, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors are also interested in two men caught on surveillance footage removing boxes from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, according to two people familiar with the matter. One of them is Waltine Nauta, a former White House aide who worked for Trump in Florida. The other is a worker at Mar-a-Lago.