WASHINGTON — Justice Department prosecutors investigating the mishandling of classified documents at Donald Trump’s Florida estate are seeking to pierce the attorney-client privilege and want to again question one of the former president’s lawyers before a grand jury, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday night.
The privilege protects lawyers from having to tell prosecutors about the confidential conversations their clients have with them. But prosecutors can get around that privilege if they can convince a judge that the communications they want information about were made in furtherance of a crime — a principle known as the crime-fraud exception.
Prosecutors have already questioned M. Evan Corcoran before a grand jury, but he repeatedly invoked attorney-client privilege in declining to answer certain questions, according to the person who spoke with The Associated Press and insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. They’re seeking to question him again, and want to be able to move past attorney-client privilege, the person said.
The request from prosecutors working with special counsel Jack Smith is expected to lead to closed-door arguments before the chief judge of the District of Columbia federal court about whether prosecutors can compel Corcoran to answer their questions about his conversations with Trump.
This is not the first time during the course of the investigation prosecutors have raised the specter of criminal conduct in connection with the Mar-a-Lago investigation. Last August the Justice Department revealed in a search warrant affidavit that it had probable cause to investigate the unlawful retention of national defense information as well as efforts to obstruct that probe.
It remains unclear whether Trump or anyone else will be charged, even though the move is a notably aggressive act by Smith’s team. A war crimes prosecutor who previously led the Justice Department’s public
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday he had “personally approved” the dramatic raid on Donald Trump’s Florida estate and, in a highly unusual move, was requesting the warrant justifying the search be made public.
The country’s top prosecutor did not reveal the reason for the unprecedented search of the home of a former US president, and condemned “unfounded attacks” on the FBI and the Justice Department that followed it.
While noting that “ethical obligations” prevented him detailing the basis of the raid, Garland said he had asked a Florida judge to unseal the warrant because Trump had publicly confirmed the search and there is “substantial public interest in this matter.”
Trump, who has a copy of the search warrant but has — so far — declined to reveal its contents, has until 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Friday to contest the request that it be unsealed.
Some analysts suggested Garland was effectively online him to block the motion, given that Trump has argued the raid was baseless and politically motivated.
Andrew Weissmann, a former Justice Department official, said Garland had “called Trump’s bluff” by putting the onus on the former president to object or consent to release of the document.
The Justice Department motion to unseal the warrant noted — and did not dispute — statements by Trump’s representatives that the FBI was seeking presidential records and potential classified material.
According to US media, the search related to potential mishandling of classified documents taken to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.
The Washington Post on Thursday cited anonymous sources close to the
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said that he personally approved the decision to seek a warrant so that the FBI could search former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
Mr Garland delivered a statement on Thursday afternoon regarding the FBI executing a search warrant on the former president’s estate. He said in his statement that the Department of Justice had filed a motion in the Southern District of Florida to unseal the warrant.
Mr Garland said that the department does not make decisions like this lightly.
“Where possible it is standard practice to seek less intrusive means as an alternative to a search and to narrowly scope any search that is undertaken,” he said.
Mr Garland said that the search warrant was authorized upon the required finding of probable cause and said the Justice Department filed to make the warrant public given Mr Trump’s confirmation of the search and the public interest in the matter.
Mr Garland’s words come after the FBI’s search of his Palm Beach, Florida, home on Monday evening, which Mr Trump immediately criticized by saying that the bureau used the search of his property to plant unspecified evidence against him.
The attorney general also spoke out against criticisms of the professionalism of the FBI and the Justice Department.
“I will not stand by silently when their integrity is unfairly attacked the men and women of the FBI and the Justice Department are dedicated patriotic public servants every day,” he said. “They protect the American people from violent crime, terrorism and other threats to their safety, while safeguarding our civil rights.”
Shortly after Mr Garland’s statement, the former president posted a statement on Truth Social.
“I continue to ask, what happened to the 33 million pages of documents taken to Chicago by President Obama?” he said. “The fake
Scrutiny and criticisms from every direction have been at the US Department of Justice ever since the FBI executed a search warrant of former President Donald Trump’s home.
On Thursday, however, US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the DOJ has filed a motion in Florida to unseal the search warrant and property receipt. Trump’s home, Mar-A-Lago, is located in the Palm Beach area.