The chief judge of the Washington, DC federal district court has ordered Evan Corcoran, the Maryland-based attorney who represented former president Donald Trump in the weeks leading up to the 8 August FBI search of his Palm Beach, Florida property, to give evidence before a grand jury regarding conversations he had with Mr Trump about efforts to find and return classified documents to the US government.
According to multiple reports, Judge Beryl Howell granted a request made by Jack Smith, the DOJ special counsel supervising multiple probes into Mr Trump, to pierce the attorney-client privilege Mr Corcoran would normally enjoy as a member of the ex-president’s legal team.
The prosecution motion — made and argued in secret because it concerns grand jury proceedings — asked the judge to compel Mr Corcoran to testify under something called the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. Mr Corcoran had claimed the privilege should shield him from answering certain questions when he previously appeared before the grand jury investigating Mr Trump’s alleged unlawful retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.
But the crime-fraud exception requires a judge to find that that the conversations at issue should not be protected because it is more likely than not the attorney was participating in a crime with his client, or the legal advice he was giving was being used to further a crime.
According to The Washington Post, Mr Trump’s legal team has not seen the ruling and will not be able to view it until the government can propose redactions to keep secret information that details investigative procedures, sources, or methods.
They are also expected to ask the incoming chief judge, James Boasberg, to stay Judge Howell’s order pending appeal when he takes over as chief judge on Saturday.
But the ruling is a major victory for Mr Smith, who Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed last year with a charge to investigate crimes possibly committed by Mr Trump, including his alleged unlawful retention of classified documents and his alleged obstruction of another investigation into how the classified documents FBI agents found at his property during the 8 August search and in boxes turned over to the National Archives by Mr Trump in January of last year ended up there.
In response, a spokesperson for Mr Trump told The Independent the ex-president and his team “will fight the Department of Justice on this front and all others that jeopardize fundamental American rights and values”.
“Interfering with Americans’ right to an attorney is a serious and weighty matter. For a judge to do so in violation of due process, without allowing for any real hearing, and within a few hours of her expiration date – as chief judge supervising the grand jury – is unAmerican and unacceptable,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also suggested that the effort to compel testimony from attorneys such as Mr Corcoran is “usually a good indication their underlying case is very weak”.
“If they had a real case, they wouldn’t need to play corrupt games with the Constitution. Every American has the right to consult with counsel and have candid discussions — this promotes adherence to the law,” they said.