Evidence presented in the filing, experts said, could form a legal record that Trump lawyers Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb obstructed the government investigation, allegedly telling FBI agents and prosecutors that ‘they had turned over all the classified documents when in fact many remained in Trump’s file. possession.
Unanswered were key questions that could determine Trump’s legal fate: Did he order Corcoran and Bobb to mislead the government, before or after the FBI raid on his Florida home and club?
And, if so, why did he want to keep tons of top secret classified documents there?
“It’s bad,” said Peter Lapp, a former FBI agent who worked on espionage cases and is now a private consultant. “It’s all pretty overwhelming.”
The case landed shortly after Trump hired a new attorney, after weeks of struggling to find experienced attorneys willing to represent him. Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general who served as an adviser to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ transition team, has signed a multimillion-dollar contract to represent Trump, according to people familiar with the hire.
People said Kise, who left the Foley and Lardner law firm to take the job with Trump, was assured that he would play a “lead” role in the case. Like several other people interviewed for this story, they spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive aspects of Trump’s court case.
Trump team may have hidden and moved classified documents, Justice Department says
Kise’s role could come to light as early as Thursday, when U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon will hold a hearing in Florida at Trump’s request that a special master review the records seized in the FBI search.
The Justice Department filing opposed the request and outlined its rationale for the search and the government’s right to classified and unclassified White House documents.
The filing says that when officials visited Mar-a-Lago in June, Trump’s lawyers did not let them search boxes in a storage room where the documents had been kept. Trump’s records custodian, who was not identified by name in the filing but previous reports showed it was Bobb, signed an affidavit in June promising officials that a “diligent search” of classified documents had been conducted at Mar-a-Lago. corcoran reportedly told investigators at the time that all classified documents had been returned.
Two months after the record keeper’s affidavit, FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago and recovered more than 100 additional classified documents, some with tags suggesting they involve highly sensitive intelligence information. At a minimum, experts say, the seizure could lay the groundwork to charge Bobb and Corcoran with crimes related to the obstruction.
Takeaways from the government’s dossier on what was hidden at Mar-a-Lago
“They swore they provided a diligent search and provided all classified documents in their possession, which they had weeks to provide,” Elizabeth Goitein, national security attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice, said Wednesday. “These kinds of details provide significant support for the obstruction charges.”
Three people close to Trump have acknowledged that Bobb and Corcoran could be in trouble and said Bobb should no longer play a role in Trump’s legal defense. “Christina will not be participating in motions in the future,” one of the people said.
De Corcoran, whose name appeared on a legal filing submitted by Trump’s team on Wednesday evening, one person involved in Trump’s orbit said: ‘Evan is in deep trouble, but the question is what Evan actually believed. The president needs a lawyer other than Evan right now.
Bobb and Corcoran did not respond to requests for comment. One of Trump’s top advisers said the former president’s legal team planned to argue that there was “wiggle room” in the affidavit.
Trump offered shifting accounts of where the documents seized by the FBI came from, whether they were classified, and what he knew of their storage. Right after the search, he suggested that the FBI file evidence. Then he said he declassified the sensitive documents.
On Wednesday, Trump took to social media to slam the FBI for taking photos of the documents marked top secret that were found during the search, in the process, seeming to acknowledge that the material had been in his possession. He said officers “took them out of the boxes and spread them out on the carpet, which made them look like a great ‘find.'”
Mar-a-Lago’s search warrant indicated that officers were looking for records that were “unlawfully possessed” in violation of three federal laws, according to the warrant, including a portion of the Espionage Act that prohibits the collection, transmission or loss of national defense information.
The warrant also said officers were looking for evidence of a potential destruction of records and concealment or mutilation of government material, two criminal statutes designed to prevent the obstruction of investigations.
The photo of classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, annotated
Trump and his team claimed that the former president was allowed to have the documents found in his possession and declassified them before leaving office. But experts said that’s probably not a strong defense, especially if the information in those documents could pose a serious threat to national security if released.
Among The most explosive details of the Justice Department’s response on Tuesday were a photograph showing files labeled top secret with bright red or yellow covers, spread out on a carpet. Those files were found in a container in Trump’s office, according to the court filing. A close look at one of the photo’s covers shows a mark for “HCS,” a government abbreviation for systems used to protect intelligence gathered from secret human sources.
Lapp, the former FBI agent, called the photo “striking” and said the covers of these documents suggest they were likely still considered classified.
And while Trump’s team can say they didn’t know they were still in possession of those documents, Goitein said the fact that the file indicated that officers found so many documents at Mar-a- Lago so quickly during the search could complicate this argument.
“Trump and his lawyers had months to find these documents,” she said. “The FBI was able to find them easily. It was in an office, for God’s sake.
Yet, despite the mounting evidence found at Mar-a-Lago, there is no precedent for prosecuting a former president. This is one of the questions that investigators are likely to face in the course of their investigation: what does it take to indict someone who has once been commander-in-chief?
According to Chuck Rosenberg, a former US attorney and top FBI official, the evidence should reach a higher threshold than necessary in a typical case.
Senator Lindsey Graham warns of ‘rioting in the streets’ if Trump is prosecuted
Rosenberg said it would take compelling evidence that a crime had been committed and that the alleged crime would have to be serious — far more serious than what is needed to compel prosecutors to prosecute an ordinary citizen. “One or the other is not enough,” he added.
“I don’t imagine you would charge a former president with a relatively minor crime,” Rosenberg said, referring to one of the laws cited in the search warrant, 18 USC 2071, which criminalizes the mutilation of documents.
Rosenberg said that while this law is a “perfectly legal and valid basis” for entering someone’s home with a warrant, it’s probably not a serious enough stand-alone charge to bring against a former president.
“On the other hand, there are certain laws – like the Espionage Act – that are extraordinarily serious,” he continued. “For example, and hypothetically, if you find that [a former president] is passing information to a foreign government, or trying to monetize that information, which absolutely succeeds on the scale of the crime axis. But you still need the other axis – evidence convincing enough to prove this very serious crime.
Mary McCord, who served as acting assistant attorney general for national security during the Obama administration, warned that If the documents in Trump’s possession pose a serious national security risk, prosecutors should assess whether it makes sense to use those documents as evidence in a trial, which could pose an additional national security risk.
“There is an inverse relationship that the more highly sensitive the information, the less chance there will be of a case,” McCord said. “There may be a situation where – regardless of the merits of the case – the case is not prosecuted because the national defense information is too sensitive to go before a jury.”