Prosecutors at the Office of the Special Counsel have presented strong preliminary evidence that former President Donald Trump knowingly and deliberately misled his own attorneys about the retention of classified material after leaving office, the former top federal judge wrote Friday in a sealed document, according to sources who described its content at ABC News.
U.S. Judge Beryl Howell, who resigned as Chief Judge of the District of Columbia District Court on Friday, wrote last week that prosecutors in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office made “seeming evidence that the former president committed criminal violations,” according to sources. , and that the attorney’s privileges invoked by his two lawyers could be violated.
Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in handling classified documents.
In her sealed document, Howell ordered that Evan Corcoran, Trump’s attorney, submit to a grand jury subpoena to testify on six separate lines of investigation in which he had previously claimed attorney-client confidentiality.
The sources added that Howell also ordered Corcoran to turn over a number of records related to what Howell called Trump’s alleged “criminal scheme,” echoing prosecutors. These records include handwritten notes, invoices, and transcriptions of personal audio recordings.
Having reached the so-called prima facie standard to violate Corcoran’s privilege, Howell agreed that prosecutors had produced sufficient evidence that would, on the face of it, show that Trump had committed crimes. The judge made it clear that prosecutors would still need to meet a higher standard of proof to bring charges against Trump, and even more so to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“This is a lower hurdle, but it does indicate that the government has provided some evidence and claims that they have evidence consistent with the elements of the crime,” said Brandon Van Grak, a former senior homeland security official at the Justice Department. now engaged in private practice, told ABC News.
Howell found that prosecutors provided “sufficient” evidence that Trump “deliberately concealed” the existence of additional classified documents from Corcoran, the sources said, putting Corcoran in an unwitting position to deceive the government.
It’s unclear what evidence Howell might have looked under the seal of the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers to help her make her decision.
In response to ABC News, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign said in part, “Shame on ABC Fake News for airing ILLEGALLY LEAKED false accusations from Never Trump, now a former Chief Justice, against Trump’s legal team.”
“The real story that ABC SHOULD be reporting to Fake News is that prosecutors only attack lawyers when they don’t have any case,” the spokesperson said.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment for ABC News.
The events described by the sources illustrate another dimension of the former president’s continued legal vulnerability. As the investigation into Smith’s classified documents moves forward, New York prosecutors are mulling a separate charge against Trump over silence payments he allegedly paid to the adult film star ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump is also facing scrutiny in Georgia for his attempts to cancel the state’s 2020 presidential election, and Smith is continuing his own investigation into Trump’s attempts to interfere in the 2020 election.
Central to Smith’s efforts to investigate classified documents is determining whether lawyers representing the former president gave false evidence in response to a grand jury subpoena that Trump had returned all classified documents to the government, or whether Trump himself was trying to hide documents he might have obtained. illegal. is saved.
Federal prosecutors said that in June 2022, Trump’s lawyers confirmed that a “thorough search” of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate had uncovered just 38 classified documents stored in a secure vault. But two months later, when FBI agents searched the premises, they found more than 100 more documents marked “secret,” some of which were outside the vault, including in Trump’s office, prosecutors said.
In her order last Friday, Howell ruthlessly criticized Trump’s actions since the beginning of last year in response to the government’s attempts to obtain all the classified documents seized from the White House. At one point, she called Trump’s interactions with National Archives officials a “dress rehearsal,” sources say, of his later attempts to mislead in response to a grand jury subpoena.
As ABC News previously reported, investigators tried to get Corcoran and another Trump lawyer, Jennifer Little, to testify as part of their investigation, citing a fraud exception that allows breaches of attorney-client confidentiality where necessary. suspected of providing legal services in the commission of a crime. Sources told ABC News that Howell also ordered Little’s testimony, with the exception of one of the topics on which she tried to defend attorney-client confidentiality.
Sources said prosecutors tried to question Corcoran about how he assisted another Trump lawyer, Christina Bobb, in drafting a June 2022 statement to the Justice Department, which Bobb ended up signing.
Trump’s lawyers were due to appeal Friday’s decision, sources said.