Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell is passing the gavel, but in her last ruling in the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump and the classified documents he illegally stored at Mar-a-Lago, she granted the DOJ’s request to interview his attorney — and handed over a bonus boon.
The DOJ was seeking an exception under the crime-fraud rule, which allows questioning of an attorney in cases where there is reason to believe legal advice may have been used for the purposes of committing a crime.
They want to speak to Evan Corcoran, one of Trump’s many attorneys, regarding boxes of documents that were not returned to the national archives despite a letter signed by a Trump attorney asserting all material had been turned over.
Corcoran did not sign that statement — it was another of Trump’s attorneys, Christina Bobb, who did — but reportedly drafted the letter, assuring that a “diligent search” had been carried out and that all relevant material had been returned.
This was before the FBI carried out a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, spurred by an inside tip that documents were being moved, and removed more than two dozen boxes of papers (only to have more material surface later).
Judge Howell didn’t stop there though.
She also turned over to the DOJ a sheaf of Corcoran’s personal notes about his advice to Trump, which she was reviewing privately.
Her actions are opening up speculation, both about her reasoning (did she, perhaps, believe that Corcoran would not turn the notes over to the DOJ if ordered to do so?) and the contents of the documents (potentially incriminating enough to spur the judge to abandon protocol?).
From The Daily Beast:
“[Judge Howell] decided that investigators could pierce through the typically ironclad blanket of attorney-client privilege because of something called the “crime-fraud exception.” In essence, the judge found that whatever legal advice Corcoran gave to Trump was used in furtherance of a crime.”
It’s not only Corcoran who should be clutching his briefcase handles, according to a Slate report.
Bobb could be next in line since she signed the letter swearing that all documents had been returned.
Alina Habba, yet another of Trump’s long list of lawyers, also submitted an affidavit swearing she had carried out a diligent search and found no documents fitting the descriptions in the National Archives’ demand.
This, too, was months in advance of the search that resulted in 26 boxes of materials, many marked with confidential or classified markings.
Steph Bazzle covers politics and theocracy, always aiming for a world free from extremism and authoritarianism. Follow Steph on Twitter @imjustasteph.