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New infighting among Trump lawyers surfaces in classified documents case

Timothy Parlatore, seen in 2019, recently stepped down from representing former president Donald Trump. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
5 min

A former top lawyer defending Donald Trump in a federal probe of how he handled classified documents told CNN that he quit last week because another member of Trump’s sprawling legal team, Boris Epshteyn, “had really done everything he could to try to block us — to prevent us from doing what we could to defend the president.”

During an interview with CNN’s Paula Reid on Saturday, Timothy Parlatore said Epshteyn’s actions were making it difficult for Trump’s representatives to put together a defense strategy against an investigation being led by Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department.

“In my opinion, he was not very honest with us or with the client on certain things,” Parlatore said of Epshteyn. “There were certain things like the searches that he had attempted to interfere with.”

Long-simmering tensions among the lawyers and advisers helping Trump in several state and federal investigations have often come into public view. But the latest clash comes as Smith appears to be in the later stages of his investigation and Trump’s team prepares for possible charging decisions.

It also comes at a consequential moment for Trump politically. Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for a third time, is expected to soon be joined on the campaign trail by his strongest challenger to date, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is portraying himself as a person who can deliver Trump-like policies without the Trump-like chaos and drama.

Tim Parlatore says he is leaving Donald Trump’s legal team

Parlatore and Epshteyn on Sunday declined to comment to The Washington Post. A statement from Trump’s presidential campaign dismissed Parlatore’s assertions.

“Mr. Parlatore is no longer a member of the legal team,” the statement read. “His statements regarding current members of the legal team are unfounded and categorically false.”

Trump has amassed a sprawling team of lawyers and advisers as prosecutors around the country have announced investigations into him. An Atlanta-area district attorney is looking into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results there; the Justice Department is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; and a civil jury in Manhattan found that Trump sexually abused and defamed writer E. Jean Carroll.

While those cases unfolded publicly for months, a quieter controversy was slowly developing between Trump and the National Archives and Records Administration over classified documents that Trump had taken to Florida after leaving the White House in January 2021. In August 2022, the FBI conducted a court-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s home and private club where the documents were located.

Parlatore was a key figure in defending Trump in that case. Last year, he testified before the federal grand jury probing Trump’s handling of those documents.

There, Parlatore was questioned about the effort taken by Trump’s team to locate any classified documents that remained in the former president’s possession, The Post previously reported.

Parlatore was also the lead author of a 10-page letter sent to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) in April, which, at the time, was the most detailed defense of Trump’s conduct in that case. Parlatore argued in the letter that Trump didn’t know what was in boxes of material shipped to Mar-a-Lago and that the entire controversy would have been avoided if the National Archives had properly assisted him after he left the White House.

Before this weekend’s public feud, members of Trump’s legal team tried to settle the conflict quietly. Parlatore and another lawyer for Trump, James Trusty, recently traveled to Florida to advise Trump that he needed to remove Epshteyn from the document case and the 2020 election case, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private deliberations. Smith, the special counsel, is tasked with investigating both cases.

Epshteyn, a lawyer, had helped guide communications for Trump’s campaign and the White House.

According to the source, Parlatore and Trusty argued that the lawyers needed to focus on protecting Trump legally, not politically.

A source close to the Trump campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the team’s private thinking defended Epshteyn and said he is focused on protecting Trump from a variety of angles, whether it’s legal, political or related to the media.

Trump did not appear to take Parlatore and Trusty’s advice, as Epshteyn remained in his role as a key legal adviser and coordinator to Trump.

During the CNN interview, Parlatore said that Epshteyn had been putting up roadblocks to other members of Trump’s legal team who were looking for documents that may have been at Trump’s property in Bedminster, N.J.

“There was a lot of pushback from him where he didn’t want us doing the search. And we had to eventually overcome him,” Parlatore said.

Though no longer on the Trump team, Parlatore said he continues to believe that there wasn’t anything illegal in the handling of classified documents.

“I don’t believe that there are going to be any charges filed against anybody in the Mar-a-Lago case,” Parlatore said on CNN.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.