A federal judge ruled Friday that prosecutors overseeing investigations into the handling of former President Donald J. Trump’s classified documents can breach attorney-client privilege claims and force one of his attorneys to answer more questions before a grand jury, two people who are familiar with that thing said.
In her decision, Judge Beryl A. Howell noted that the government had reached the threshold for what is known as the criminal fraud exception, which allows prosecutors to circumvent attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe there is legal advice or legal services to promote were charged with a crime.
The New York Times reported last month that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office had asked Judge Howell to apply the felony fraud exception to grand jury testimony from M. Evan Corcoran, an attorney representing Mr. Trump since last spring, as the examination of the documents began to heat up. Mr. Corcoran appeared before the grand jury and asserted attorney-client privilege, but declined to answer specific questions.
Judge Howell’s decision in a sealed proceeding that the felony fraud exception applies to this situation is important because it addresses Mr Smith’s contention that Mr Corcoran’s legal work may have been involved in the commission of a felony.
Among the issues the Justice Department has been investigating since last year is whether Mr Trump or his associates have obstructed justice by failing to comply with repeated calls for the return of a wealth of government material he took with him when he left office , including hundreds of documents with classified flags.
Last May, before Mr. Smith took over the investigation, federal prosecutors issued a subpoena for all classified documents still in Mr. Trump’s possession – a move taken after the former president submitted an initial batch of records to the National Archives turned out to include nearly 200 classified documents.
In response to the subpoena, Mr. Corcoran met with federal investigators and gave them another batch of documents, more than 30, with non-disclosure markings. He then wrote a statement for another attorney to be submitted to the Justice Department, saying that a “duty search” had been conducted at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s club and Florida residence, and that there no secret materials were left behind.
Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman