It’s been about two months since a lawyer for former President Donald Trump was forced to testify as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the handling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. It wasn’t clear at the time why a federal judge opted to approve a “crime fraud exception” to the usual shield of attorney-client privilege and ordered Evan Corcoran to testify. But now we have an inkling — and it’s not an encouraging development if the former president is still hoping to avoid a federal indictment.
This development seemingly makes for compelling evidence in a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump.
Among the roughly 50 pages of contemporaneous notes handed over to Smith in March was evidence that Corcoran had warned Trump he couldn’t hold on to any classified documents still in his possession, The Guardian reported on Monday, citing three people “with knowledge of” what the notes contained. (NBC News has not independently verified the reported contents of the notes.) When combined with previous reporting on Corcoran’s grand jury testimony, this development seemingly makes for compelling evidence in a possible obstruction of justice case against Trump.
The Guardian’s sources claim that Corcoran’s notes gave prosecutors a picture of the “unusually detailed knowledge” that Trump and his valet, Walt Nauta, had about the scope and details of the search for documents that was taking place last summer. Last May, the Justice Department issued a subpoena requiring that Trump and his lawyers return any government records still at the property after finding over 100 classified documents in a set of boxes that had been provided to the National Archives and Records Agency earlier that year.
Nauta has reportedly told investigators that he had moved several boxes from a storage facility at Mar-a-Lago after the subpoena was issued. Several Trump employees had told Corcoran the facility was the only place where documents were stored, Corcoran testified in March, according to The New York Times. That was proved to be false when the FBI executed a search warrant at the property last August, finding documents in multiple other rooms, including Trump’s office. (Trump has said that the search and investigation were part of a "witch hunt" against him and denied any wrongdoing.)
Trump was warned he could not keep classified documents: reportMay 22, 202301:51
A key question that prosecutors are trying to answer is whether Trump ordered Nauta, or anyone else, to move boxes containing classified documents specifically because he wanted to avoid the subpoena. Both men apparently knew about the subpoena and the document search that Corcoran intended to conduct, according to Corcoran’s notes as described to The Guardian. And at no point did Nauta or Trump appear to have told Corcoran to search for documents outside the storage facility, The New York Times reported earlier this month.
Nauta has stopped cooperating with the government, making Corcoran’s testimony and notes all the more valuable. Paired with security footage obtained from Mar-a-Lago and testimony from other employees who worked there, the hope is to prove Trump mislead his lawyers, who signed off on telling the Justice Department that there were no remaining documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Corcoran’s notes, if accurate, could also provide one more bit of evidence that Trump was well aware that he needed to hand over any and all classified documents in his possession. The former president has spent most of the past nine months loudly declaring that he did nothing wrong in bringing classified documents from the White House back to his Florida residence. In doing so, he’s repeatedly (and falsely) claimed that he declassified them, a proposition that experts have rejected given America’s well-established declassification procedures.
You’d think that Trump’s admission that he knowingly brought classified documents home would be enough for a prosecution — and it may well play into any charges that Smith brings. But the possible obstruction factor is what separates Trump’s behavior from the behavior of President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. The latter two discovered classified documents among their records as well, but unlike Trump, promptly turned them over to the National Archives and Records Agency and the FBI.
Smith ultimately needs as much information as possible about Trump’s mindset. And here Corcoran’s notes could also help. According to The Guardian’s sources, Corcoran captured “Trump’s facial expressions and reactions whenever they discussed the subpoena,” The Guardian reported. “The unusually detailed nature of his notes is said to have irritated Trump, who only learned about them after the notes themselves were subpoenaed.”
Reading about that detail reminded me of a classic scene in the third season of “The Wire.” The drug gang that the series had spent the first two seasons following had begun running its meetings with parliamentary procedure under “Robert’s Rules of Order.” The rules dictate that all meetings require the taking of minutes, which one junior member dutifully scribbles down on a notepad to the dismay of the second-in-command running the meeting. “Is you taking notes on a criminal ----in' conspiracy?” he asks incredulously before seizing the pad and destroying the pages. I can only assume Trump wishes he’d been able to do the same — which, ironically enough, would have also been evidence of obstructing justice.