Trump lawyer’s notes could be key to investigation into classified documents

Attorneys Mr. Evan Corcoran, left, and David Schoen arrive to represent Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress, in Washington on July 20, 2022. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

Attorneys Mr. Evan Corcoran, left, and David Schoen arrive to represent Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress, in Washington on July 20, 2022. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

Turning on his iPhone one day last year, attorney Mr. Evan Corcoran recorded his thoughts on a high-profile new job: representing former President Donald Trump in an investigation into his handling of classified documents.

In full sentences and a narrative tone that sounded like it had been ripped from a novel, Corcoran recounted in detail a nearly month-long period of investigating the documents, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Corcoran’s retelling of his memories covered his first meeting with Trump in May 2022 to discuss a Justice Department subpoena seeking the return of all classified documents in the former president’s possession, the people said.

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It also included a search Corcoran undertook last June in response to the subpoena for any relevant records kept at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence in Florida. He conducted the search in preparation for a visit from prosecutors, who were on their way to enforce the subpoena and collect any sensitive material found remaining there.

Government investigators almost never get a clear view of a lawyer’s private dealings with his clients, let alone a lawyer as prominent as Trump. A recording like the voice memo Corcoran made last year — during a long drive to a family event, according to two people briefed on the recording — is usually protected by attorney-client or work product privilege. .

But in March, a federal judge ordered Corcoran’s recorded memories – now transcribed into dozens of pages – be turned over to the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the investigation into the documents.

The ruling by judge Beryl Howell breached the privilege that would normally have protected Corcoran’s thoughts about his interactions with Trump. These protections have been set aside under what is known as the criminal fraud exception, a provision that allows prosecutors to circumvent attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used to further a crime.

Howell, in a sealed memo that accompanied his decision, made it clear that prosecutors believe Trump knowingly misled Corcoran about the location of documents that would respond to the subpoena, according to a person familiar with the contents of the memo.

The Corcoran notes, which have not been previously described in such detail, will likely play a pivotal role as Smith and his team move towards the conclusion of their investigation and turn to the question of whether to wear charges against Trump. They could also appear as evidence in a courtroom if a criminal case is eventually filed and goes to trial.

The level of detail in the recording has reportedly angered and angered Trump’s close aides who fear it contains direct quotes from sensitive conversations.

Corcoran, who was brought into Trump’s orbit by a political and legal adviser to the former president, Boris Epshteyn, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement that “attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest and most fundamental tenets of our legal system,” and he accused the department of Justice to try to deny Trump “this fundamental right”. ”

Cheung added that “whether the attorneys’ notes are detailed or not makes no difference – those notes reflect the legal opinions and thoughts of the attorney, not the client.” And he maintained that Trump tried to cooperate when Justice Department officials came to the property last June.

In an early scene of his story, Corcoran describes meeting Trump at Mar-a-Lago last spring to help him deal with a subpoena that had just been issued by a federal grand jury in Washington demanding the return of all classified documents in the possession of his presidential office, people familiar with the matter said.

After some banter, according to a description of the taped notes, Trump asked Corcoran if he should comply with the subpoena. Corcoran told him he did.

This exchange could be useful to prosecutors as they gather evidence on whether Trump sought to obstruct the subpoena process and interfere with broader government efforts to recover all the sensitive records he took with him. of the White House.

But people close to Trump said the conversation could be read in a more favorable light, as a client was simply asking his lawyer how he should proceed.

The recording also describes how Corcoran conducted a search of a Mar-a-Lago storage room in an effort to comply with the subpoena’s request for documents, people familiar with the account said. Corcoran told a grand jury in May that several employees at the compound told him everything he needed was kept in the storage room, which is located in the basement of the property, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Corcoran then turned over to Justice Department officials more than three dozen documents he found during his search and drafted a letter to the department stating that a diligent search had found no more.

Notes from the recording do not suggest Corcoran was prevented from searching anywhere other than the storage room, people who knew them said. But they also indicate that no one at Mar-a-Lago — including Trump — spoke up to tell him he should look elsewhere.

In the end, it turned out that the employees who directed Corcoran to the storage room were wrong. In August, when FBI agents descended on Mar-a-Lago with a court-approved search warrant, they found classified documents not only in Mar-a-Lago’s basement but also in the office. of Trump.

The question of who moved the boxes in and out of the storage room – and why – became a central part of Smith’s investigation. Prosecutors have focused much of their attention on Walt Nauta, a Trump aide who helped move boxes, and another Mar-a-Lago employee, Carlos Deoliveira, a maintenance worker who helped Nauta .

Smith’s team also focused on a related question: whether there had been any efforts to interfere with the government’s attempts to obtain security camera footage from Mar-a-Lago that could shed light. how the documents were kept in the storage room and who had access to them. Corcoran’s notes provide some details about Nauta’s involvement in the research.

They say, for example, that Nauta unlocked the storage room door for Corcoran, according to people who know them. They also say Nauta brought Corcoran some duct tape so he could seal the classified documents he found in a folder, in preparation for turning them over to prosecutors.

There is also a reference to Corcoran’s meeting with prosecutors, which took place at Mar-a-Lago on June 3, 2022. He and another Trump lawyer, Christina Bobb, met with Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence section of the national security division of the Department of Justice, to turn over the documents he found and to forward the letter claiming that to their knowledge, there was nothing left at Mar-a-Lago.

The notes refer to Trump’s appearance related to Bratt’s visit, according to a person briefed on the content of the notes.

Howell’s memorandum compelling Corcoran to answer questions before a grand jury and produce his notes paints the attorney as essentially a victim of months of Trump’s game with investigators and National Archives officials over the return of the documents, according to a report. person familiar with the contents of the memo.

As The New York Times reported in April, Howell wrote in the memorandum, according to the person familiar with its contents, that Trump’s prior actions and the “hijacking” of archive officials’ efforts to recover what was turned out to be more than a dozen boxes of the recordings were a “dress rehearsal” for the May subpoena.

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