U.S. prosecutors argued that there are exceptions to the privilege, including when there is evidence that a client used the attorney’s legal services in furtherance of a crime. In secret court filings and a hearing held behind closed doors last week, people familiar with the matter said, prosecutors sought to show Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington that there were grounds for a “crime-fraud exception.”
Howell agreed, said the two people briefed on the ruling, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Her decision was first reported by CNN.
Trump’s team is expected to ask incoming Chief U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, who succeeds the term-limited Howell as of midnight Saturday, to stay her order while they appeal, the people familiar with the matter said.
The people did not provide details of Howell’s decision, and the scope of what questions Corcoran must answer was not clear. Trump’s team will not see the decision until next week, they said, after the Justice Department has a chance to propose redacting portions of the ruling that deal with investigative details that prosecutors want to keep secret.
Howell’s decision is a victory for prosecutors, as they investigate whether Trump or anyone around him committed a crime and should face charges after an FBI search of the former president’s home in August turned up more than 100 documents with classified markings. The government had tried for more than a year to recover any documents in Trump’s possession after he left the White House, and had issued a subpoena months before the search demanding any material with classified markings.
Corcoran handled the Trump team’s initial responses to government requests to retrieve documents that were still in the possession of the ex-president. He gave assurances to the Justice Department that he led a diligent review of the documents in Trump’s possession in response to the May 2022 subpoena, and had identified and handed over all classified records.
The Justice Department is investigating whether Trump or anyone around mishandled classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, or obstructed the investigation or efforts to retrieve the material.
Special counsel Jack Smith — appointed to lead the investigation in November, after Trump announced he was again running for president — has increased scrutiny of Trump’s legal team in recent weeks, turning some of his many current or former attorneys into witnesses or potential investigative targets. In addition to the classified documents case, Smith’s office is leading a separate investigation into whether efforts to interfere with the transition of power from Trump to President Biden after the 2020 election violated criminal laws.
The special counsel’s office declined to comment on Howell’s ruling.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.