The two charges filed so far against former President Donald J. Trump — one filed by the Manhattan District Attorney, the other by a Justice Department special counsel — charge him with very different crimes, but have something to do with it. in common: both were based, at least in part, on the words of his own lawyers.
In the 49-page federal indictment accusing him of withholding classified documents after he left the White House and plans to block government efforts to recover them, one of the most potentially damning evidence came from notes of one of those lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran.
Mr Corcoran’s notes, first recorded on an iPhone and then transcribed onto paper, essentially gave prosecutors a roadmap to build their case. According to the indictment, Mr. Trump pressured Mr. Corcoran to stop investigators from recovering large amounts of classified material and even suggested that it might be better to lie to investigators and withhold the documents altogether.
Earlier this year, despite Mr Trump’s objections, special counsel overseeing the investigation, Jack Smith, obtained the notes by invoking the crime fraud exception. That exception is a provision of the law that allows prosecutors to circumvent the normal protections of attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe and can demonstrate to a judge that a client has used legal advice to commit a crime. promote.
The ruling in favor of the Justice Department’s request by Judge Beryl A. Howell, then the chief judge of the Federal District Court in Washington, was crucial to the form and outcome of the investigation.
Mr. Trump’s legal fate could now depend on testimony and evidence from two men he has paid to defend him: Mr. Corcoran, who is still a member of his legal team, and Michael D. Cohen, a former attorney of Mr. Trump who helped New York prosecutors with their case related to the former president’s payment of hush money to a porn star before the 2016 election. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges, including one involving a violation of campaign finance in 2018. Mr Corcoran has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Their complicated involvement in the two cases reflects the dangers of the former president’s longtime habit of viewing lawyers as attack dogs or even political bosses rather than advocates bound by ethical rules.
Now in his late 70s, Mr. Trump is still seeking lawyers in the form of the one who first mentored, protected and, in his words, “brutalized” for him: the ruthless and eventually disbarred Roy M. Cohn .
Trump is due to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday.
When the charges against Mr. Trump were unsealed on Friday, it abruptly became clear that Mr. Corcoran’s notes — identified as “Trump Attorney 1” — were far more extensive and much more damaging than previously known.
“What happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play along?” Mr. Corcoran quotes Mr. Trump’s statement at one point, referring to government officials seeking to enforce a subpoena demanding the return of the documents.
The notes referenced in the indictment underline the extent to which the allegations were based on evidence from his inner circle. Along with Mr Corcoran’s notes, prosecutors drew on text messages from some of his employees and a recording an assistant made of him. Prosecutors seized phones and subpoenaed documents from a broad group of his advisers.
Accounts from people close to Mr. Trump have shaped the understanding of researchers in various studies for years.
In the New York case, which centered on hush money payments to the porn star, the charges were based in part on testimony from Mr Cohen. Mr. Cohen paid the woman, Stormy Daniels, and was paid back by Mr. Trump over time, records and testimony show. He is now a key witness for the prosecution.
But as Mr. Corcoran’s testimony and notes became a key factor in the documents case, Mr. Trump made it clear that he still considered his lawyers to be somehow exempt from legal scrutiny.
“I used to think that lawyers really had a very high status in life, that if you had a lawyer, lawyers couldn’t be subpoenaed, they couldn’t be called to talk,” Trump told Newsmax in March. Judge Howell’s ruling. Complaining about the way Mr. Corcoran was forced to testify in the documentary review, he said, “They bring lawyers in like they’re, you know, witnesses to a case. It shouldn’t have been.”
Mr Corcoran, who was recommended to the team by Mr Trump’s legal adviser Boris Epshteyn, could potentially be a star witness if the case goes to trial.
The special counsel’s ongoing investigation into Trump’s attempts to stay in power after he lost the 2020 election included testimony from key advisers to the former president, as well as the House’s select committee’s investigation into the case.
Mr. Trump has long complained about lawyers or other advisers taking notes for him. But NewsMadura had reported that Mr Corcoran’s notes were plentiful, dictated into the Voice Memos app on his iPhone after meeting with Mr Trump about the subpoena issued in May 2022 demanding the return of all secret documents he still had in March. -a-Lago.
In her memorandum explaining her ruling that Mr. Corcoran must give evidence in the documentary review, Judge Howell wrote that prosecutors had produced compelling evidence that Mr. Corcoran had been misled by his client, leaving the attorney “blind-eyed.” about where the remaining boxes of documents were stored.
“The administration has sufficiently demonstrated all three elements” of one of the obstruction statutes” by providing evidence that the former president deliberately concealed the existence of additional classification-marker documents from Corcoran, knowing that such deception would result in that Corcoran would unwittingly misrepresent the facts to the government,” the judge wrote in the 86-page memorandum, according to a person briefed on its contents.
At one point, according to the notes, Mr. Trump expressed concern that Mr. Corcoran was going through the materials in the boxes he brought from the White House, even though he had specifically appointed Mr. Corcoran to support the Department’s efforts of Justice to recover any material that Mr. Trump may still have had.
“I don’t want anyone looking in my boxes, I really don’t want that,” Trump said. “I don’t want you looking in my boxes.”
In one of the most scathing passages of the notes, Mr. Corcoran describes how Mr. Trump made a “picking motion” after putting some 40 classified documents in a folder in preparation for being handed over to federal prosecutors in accordance with a subpoena. who had demanded the return of all classified documents in Mr Trump’s possession.
In his notes, Mr Corcoran said the gesture made him think Mr Trump was suggesting he take the folder to his “hotel room and if there’s anything bad in it, like, you know, pick it out.”
In another revealing conversation about what Mr. Trump hoped to communicate to his attorney about what the former president expected of him, Mr. Trump spoke admiringly of an unnamed attorney for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Mr Trump claimed the attorney took responsibility for deleting emails from her private server for her, an issue prompting an FBI investigation into her dealings with government materials.
“He was great, he did a great job,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Corcoran’s retelling of the indictment. “He said it—that it was him. That he was the one who deleted all of her emails, the 30,000 emails, because they essentially related to her schedule and her going to the gym and her beauty appointments. And he was great. And him, so she didn’t get in trouble because he said he was the one who deleted them.
In addition to serving as potential evidence for a jury, Mr. Corcoran’s notes could also be useful to prosecutors in what is sure to be a contentious pre-trial period marked by motions from Mr. Trump’s attorneys to dismiss the case for several reasons. reasons to dismiss.
One of those attempts to deny could be a so-called Selective Prosecution Motion, alleging that Mr. Trump was wrongly charged while a figure like Mrs. Clinton, for example, was also investigated for handling classified information but was never charged.
Mr. Corcoran’s detailed accounts of how Mr. Trump tried to prevent him from returning classified material could be strong evidence of his obstruction of the government’s investigation and, therefore, serve to distinguish his case from those from Mrs. Clinton.