WASHINGTON - A lawyer for Donald Trump was back in court Friday after being ordered to answer questions before a grand jury investigating the possible mishandling of classified documents at the former president's Florida estate.
M. Evan Corcoran entered federal court in the District of Columbia early Friday morning, one week after a federal judge ruled in favor of the Justice Department in forcing Corcoran to answer additional questions before a grand jury that has been hearing testimony for months. He did not make any comments as he arrived at the building.
The interest by prosecutors in Corcoran's testimony underscores the legal peril confronting Trump, making clear the department's continued focus on whether Trump obstructed government efforts to recover hundreds of classified documents taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago at the end of his term.
A search warrant affidavit released last August showed that investigators were examining potential violations of multiple crimes, including obstruction and the willful retention of national defense information.
Corcoran is relevant to the investigation because he drafted a letter that was given to the department last June asserting that a 'diligent search' for classified documents had been done in response to a subpoena. The letter was accompanied by the return of roughly three dozen documents with classified markings.
But prosecutors have said in court filings they developed evidence showing that additional classified documents remained at the property. The FBI returned with a search warrant on August 8 and removed roughly 100 additional classified documents, the filings show.
Attorney-client privilege traditionally shields lawyers from being forced to share details of their conversations with prosecutors. Corcoran invoked that privilege during an earlier appearance before the grand jury when he declined to answer certain questions.
But prosecutors can get around that if they can convince a judge that a client was using such legal representation in furtherance of a crime - a principle known under the law as the crime-fraud exception.
The Justice Department made that argument in this case and secured a sealed order last week from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell that required Corcoran to appear again before the grand jury to answer additional questions.
Another Trump lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, confirmed in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday that he had voluntarily testified for about six hours or seven hours before the grand jury in December to answer questions about the Trump team's compliance with the department's efforts to reclaim the classified documents. His appearance was earlier reported by ABC News.
The Mar-a-Lago investigation is being led by a Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith, who is also examining attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump faces a separate investigation by the Manhattan district attorney's office - into hush money payments during the 2016 campaign - that appears to be close to wrapping up, as well as an investigation in Atlanta into efforts to reverse Trump's election loss in Georgia.