The two indictments filed so far against former President Donald Trump — one by the Manhattan District Attorney, the other by a Justice Department special counsel — charge him with very different crimes. but have something in common: both were based, at least in part, on the words of his own lawyers.
In the 49-page federal indictment accusing him of keeping classified documents after leaving the White House and conspiring to block government efforts to retrieve them, some of the most potentially damning evidence came from notes written by one of these lawyers, Mr. Evan Corcoran.
Corcoran’s notes, first recorded on an iPhone and then transcribed on paper, essentially gave prosecutors a roadmap to build their case. Trump, according to the indictment, pressured Corcoran to prevent investigators from recovering tons of classified documents and even suggested to him that it might be better to lie to investigators and withhold the documents altogether.
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Earlier this year, over Trump’s objections, special counsel overseeing the investigation, Jack Smith, obtained the notes citing the criminal fraud exception. This exception is a provision of the law that allows prosecutors to circumvent normal attorney-client privilege protections if they have reason to believe and can demonstrate to a judge that a client used legal advice to prosecute a crime.
The ruling granting the Justice Department’s request by Judge Beryl A. Howell, then Chief Justice of the U.S. District Court in Washington, was crucial to the form and outcome of the investigation.
Trump’s legal fate may now hinge on the testimony and evidence of two men he paid to defend him: Corcoran, who is still a member of his legal team, and Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer who helped prosecutors of New York in their case. linked to the former president’s silent payment of money to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges, including one related to a campaign finance violation, in 2018 Corcoran has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Their complicated involvement in both cases reflects the perils of the former president’s long habit of viewing lawyers as attack dogs or even political bosses rather than lawyers bound by ethical rules.
Now in the late ’70s, Trump is still looking for lawyers in the mold of the one who first framed, protected and, in his words, “brutalized” him for him: the ruthless and ultimately disbarred of the Roy M. Cohn Bar.
Trump is scheduled to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday.
When Trump’s indictment was unsealed on Friday, it became abruptly clear that Corcoran’s notes – identified as “Trump Attorney 1” – were far more extensive and far more damaging than previously known.
“What happens if we don’t respond at all or if we don’t play with them? Corcoran quotes Trump as saying at one point, referring to government officials seeking to enforce a subpoena demanding the return of the documents.
The notes mentioned in the indictment highlight how the charges were based on evidence from those around him. In addition to Corcoran’s notes, prosecutors relied on text messages from a number of its employees and a recording made by an aide. Prosecutors seized phones and subpoenaed documents from a large group of his advisers.
For years, testimonies from people in Trump’s inner circle have shaped the understanding of investigators in different investigations.
In the New York case, which centered on silent payments to the porn star, the charges were based in part on Cohen’s testimony. Cohen paid the woman, Stormy Daniels, and was reimbursed by Trump over time, according to records and testimony. He is now the prosecution’s star witness.
But when Corcoran’s testimony and notes became a key factor in the documents case, Trump made it clear that he still considered his attorneys to be somehow exempt from legal scrutiny.
“I’ve always thought that lawyers really have a very high status in life, that when you have a lawyer, lawyers can’t be subpoenaed, they can’t be called in to talk,” Trump told Newsmax in March after Howell’s decision. . Complaining about how Corcoran was coerced into giving evidence in the investigation into the documents, he said: ‘They’re bringing in lawyers like they’re, you know, witnesses in a case. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. »
Corcoran, who was recommended for the team by Trump legal adviser Boris Epshteyn, could potentially be a key witness if the case goes to trial.
The special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump’s efforts to cling to power after losing the 2020 election has included testimony from key advisers to the former president, as has the investigation by the select committee of the Chamber on the matter.
Trump has long complained about lawyers or other advisers taking notes in front of him. But the New York Times had reported that Corcoran’s notes were copious, dictated into the Voice Memos app on his iPhone after a meeting with Trump over the May 2022 subpoena demanding the return of all classified documents that he still had at Mar-a-Lago. .
In his brief explaining his decision that Corcoran should testify in the investigation of the documents, Howell wrote that prosecutors had presented compelling evidence that Corcoran had been misled by his client, who had let the counsel a “blinded” view of where the remaining boxes of documents were stored.
“The government has sufficiently demonstrated the three elements of ‘one of the obstruction laws’ by providing evidence that the former president intentionally concealed the existence of additional documents bearing Corcoran classification marks, knowing that a such deception would cause Corcoran to unknowingly provide a false representation to the government,” the judge wrote in the 86-page memorandum, according to a person briefed on its contents.
At one point, according to the notes, Trump expressed concern that Corcoran was sorting materials from the boxes he had taken from the White House, even though he had brought in Corcoran specifically to handle the effort. from the Department of Justice to recover any material that Trump might still have had.
“I don’t want anyone looking in my boxes, really don’t,” the notes quoted Trump as saying. “I don’t want you going through my boxes.”
In one of the most damning passages of the memos, Corcoran describes how Trump made a “snatch move” after placing about 40 secret documents in a file to turn over to federal prosecutors pursuant to a subpoena that demanded the return of all classified documents in Trump’s possession.
In his notes, Corcoran said the gesture made him think Trump was suggesting he should take the file to his “hotel room and if there’s something really bad in there, like, you know , tear it off”.
In another revealing exchange about what Trump hoped to communicate to his attorney about what the former president wanted of him, Trump spoke admiringly to an unnamed attorney for Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. Trump claimed the attorney took responsibility for deleting emails from his private server for her, an issue that sparked an FBI investigation into his handling of government material.
“He was awesome, he did a great job,” Trump said, according to Corcoran’s account in the indictment. “He said it was – it was him. That he’s the one who deleted all his emails, all 30,000 emails, because they were mostly about his schedule, his gym trips and his beauty appointments. And he was great. And him, so she didn’t get in trouble because he said he was the one who deleted them.
In addition to serving as potential evidence for a jury, Corcoran’s notes could prove useful to prosecutors in what is sure to be a contentious pretrial period marked by requests from Trump’s attorneys to dismiss the case for various reasons.
One such effort to dismiss could be a so-called selective prosecution motion, arguing that Trump was wrongfully charged when a figure like Clinton, for example, was also investigated for manipulating classified information but was never charged.
Corcoran’s detailed accounts of how Trump sought to avoid turning over classified documents could be powerful evidence of his obstruction of the government’s investigation and, for that reason, serve to distinguish his case from Clinton’s.
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