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Trump lawyer must turn over evidence on classified documents, court rules

Federal appeals court weighed in on battle over whether Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran must provide notes, transcripts and other documents

Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
4 min

A federal appeals court has ruled that a lawyer for Donald Trump must provide notes, transcripts and other evidence to prosecutors investigating how classified documents remained at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago home months after a subpoena to return all sensitive files, according to court records and people familiar with the matter.

The panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a brief order Wednesday afternoon directing the parties “to comply with the district court’s March 17, 2023, order to produce documents” and ending an emergency hold on a ruling last week by a lower-court judge.

Trump’s legal team had appealed that ruling, which said the lawyer, Evan Corcoran, must provide evidence to prosecutors because his legal services may have been used to facilitate a possible crime — obstruction of government attempts to recover highly sensitive documents — according to people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sealed court proceedings.

Presidents and vice presidents routinely deal with classified documents, but strict guidelines from a variety of statutes have clear guidelines on the subject. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Lawyers for the former president had argued that the material being sought was protected by attorney-client privilege, which in most instances shields any communications between a lawyer and a client. Prosecutors responded — and U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ultimately agreed — that the “crime-fraud exception” to attorney-client privilege applied in this case, people familiar with the matter said.

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Donald Trump is facing historic legal scrutiny for a former president, under investigation by the Justice Department, district attorneys in Manhattan and Fulton County, Ga., and a state attorney general. He denies wrongdoing. Here is a list of the key investigations and where they stand.
Justice Department criminal probe of Jan. 6
The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 riot and whether Trump or his aides may have conspired to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of the election result or committed fraud to block the peaceful transfer of power. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to oversee both this and the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
Mar-a-Lago documents investigation
FBI agents found more than 100 classified documents during a search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information. A grand jury is hearing witness testimony as prosecutors weigh their next steps.
Georgia election results investigation
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) is investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia. A Georgia judge on Feb. 15 released parts of a report produced by a special-purpose grand jury, and authorities who are privy to the report will decide whether to ask a new grand jury to vote on criminal charges.
Manhattan district attorney’s investigation
District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) convened a grand jury to evaluate business-related matters involving Trump, including his alleged role in hush-money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. On March 30, the grand jury voted to indict Trump, making him the first ex-president to be charged with a crime. Here’s what happens next.
Lawsuit over Trump business practices in New York
Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit Sept. 21 against Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of flagrantly manipulating the valuations of their properties to get better terms on loans and insurance policies, and to get tax breaks. The litigation is pending.


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As part of Howell’s ruling, Corcoran was ordered to give the Justice Department notes, transcripts of recordings, and invoices in his possession, according to a person familiar with the matter, who said the judge has reviewed that material and concluded there was evidence suggesting Trump may have misled his own attorneys in the classified-documents matter. The details of Howell’s ruling were first reported by ABC News.

Federal court docket entries show the appeals panel worked on an unusually short schedule — one side in the case had to file its papers by midnight Tuesday, and the other by 6 a.m. Wednesday.

On the panel were Florence Pan, a former D.C. Superior Court judge, and J. Michelle Childs, a former South Carolina judge. Both were nominated by President Biden to the federal bench, and Childs was on the president’s shortlist of potential nominees to fill the Supreme Court opening created by the retirement of Justice Stephen G. Breyer. The third judge on the panel, Cornelia T.L. Pillard, was nominated by President Barack Obama.

The appeal will continue, with briefs due in May. But without a hold on Howell’s order, prosecutors can review the evidence while Trump’s legal team argues against its use.

It’s possible the former president will seek to carry the fight up to the Supreme Court, though it’s not clear he would have a much better chance of success there.

The fight for Corcoran’s information highlights the degree to which prosecutors are trying to gather all of the available evidence about conversations among Trump and his advisers after they received a subpoena in May of last year seeking all documents with classified markings.

In the closed-court arguments over Corcoran’s testimony and evidence, lawyers for special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department investigation in the documents case, said there is evidence of a deliberate effort not to turn over all the material covered by the subpoena, according to the people familiar with the matter.

After hearing from both sides, Howell ruled in favor of the prosecution, and suggested that Trump’s legal team might not have been completely honest in its arguments about the issue, according to one person familiar with the matter.

The classified-documents investigation is one of several criminal probes focused on Trump. Smith is also overseeing a Justice Department examination of Trump’s alleged efforts to block the results of the 2020 election, while a Manhattan grand jury is hearing evidence of possible falsification of business records concerning hush-money payments, and an Atlanta-area grand jury is weighing charges in a probe of activity around that state’s 2020 election results.

Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.