(NewsNation) — A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a lawyer for former President Donald Trump must turn over documents to a grand jury investigating the tranche of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida estate.
Former Trump impeachment lawyer Robert Ray says he’s not surprised by the prosecutors’ strategy or the ruling.
“The government is aggressive, as they often should be — they’re not always right, but they’re aggressive in pursuing evidence before a grand jury,” Ray said Wednesday on “CUOMO.”
The ruling is a significant win for the Justice Department, which has focused for months not only on the hoarding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago but also on why Trump and his representatives resisted demands to return them to the government. It suggests the court has sided with prosecutors who have argued behind closed doors that Trump was using his legal representation to further a crime.
The order was reflected in a brief online notice by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The case is sealed, and none of the parties in the dispute is mentioned by name.
But the details appear to correspond with a secret fight before a lower court judge over whether Trump lawyer M. Evan Corcoran could be forced to provide documents or give grand jury testimony in the Justice Department special counsel probe into whether Trump mishandled top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago.
“Without knowing what’s in (Corcoran’s) notes, it’s really hard to say how significant it is,” Ray said of the ruling. “It may be significant and it may turn out not to be, you know, what I guess the media expects, which is some form of smoking gun that will lead to a prosecution.”
Corcoran is the lawyer who drafted a letter last year affirming that all classified materials found during an initial search of Mar-a-Lago had been found and returned to the National Archives. It was signed by Christina Bobb, another Trump lawyer.
But the Justice Department has said it learned there were still more documents at Mar-a-Lago, prompting the need for a search warrant that was executed Aug. 8. During that search, FBI agents recovered roughly 100 document with classified markings.
Though attorney-client privilege shields lawyers from being forced to share details of their conversations with clients before prosecutors, the Justice Department can get around that if it can convince a judge that a lawyer’s services were used in furtherance of a crime — a principle known in the law as the “crime-fraud” exception.
Ray noted that in this case, prosecutors are looking to find out if Trump had direct communication with his lawyers and instructed them to lie.
“The only way to know that is (if) he had some discussion with somebody, and of course the first thing on the horizon there for a prosecutor is to see if they can bust the attorney-client privilege to get at what the former president told his lawyers,” Ray said. “But that doesn’t necessarily tell you that what he told his lawyers was, you know, true or untrue. It just means that there’s a basis for for the government to look.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.