Turning on his iPhone one day last year, attorney M. Evan Corcoran recorded his thoughts on a high-profile new job: representing former President Donald J. Trump in an investigation into his handling of confidential documents .
In full sentences and a narrative tone that sounded like it was ripped from a novel, Mr. Corcoran detailed a nearly month-long period of the investigation into the documents, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Corcoran’s recounting of his recollections involved his first meeting with Trump in May of last year to discuss a Justice Department subpoena seeking the return of all classified materials in the former president’s possession, the people said.
It also included a search Mr. Corcoran undertook last June in response to the subpoena for any relevant documents stored at Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida. He carried out the search in preparation for a visit by prosecutors, who were on their way to enforce the subpoena and collect any sensitive material found there.
Government investigators almost never get clear insight into a lawyer’s private dealings with their clients, let alone one as prominent as Mr. Trump. A recording like the voice memo Mr. Corcoran made last year — on a long drive to a family event, according to two people familiar with the recording — is typically protected by attorney-client or work-product privilege.
But in March, a federal judge ordered Mr. Corcoran’s recorded recollections — now transcribed into dozens of pages — be turned over to the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the investigation into the documents.
The decision by judge, Beryl A. Howell, infringed on the privilege that would normally have protected Corcoran’s musings on his interactions with Trump. Those protections have been set aside in what’s known as the felony fraud exception, a provision that allows prosecutors to circumvent the attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services were used to further a crime.
Judge Howell, in a sealed memorandum accompanying his decision, clarified that prosecutors believe Mr. Trump knowingly misled Mr. Corcoran about the location of the documents that allegedly responded to the subpoena, according to a person familiar with the contents. of the memo.
Mr. Corcoran’s notes, which have not previously been described in such detail, will likely play a central role as Mr. Smith and his team near the end of their investigation and address the question of whether to sue Trump. They could also appear as evidence in a courtroom if a criminal case is eventually dismissed and goes to trial.
The level of detail in the recording is said to have angered and angered Trump’s close associates, who are concerned that it contains more than just direct quotes from sensitive conversations.
Mr. Corcoran, who was brought into Trump’s orbit by a political and legal adviser to the former president, Boris Epshteyn, did not return a message seeking comment.
Steven Cheung, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, said in a statement that « lawyer-client privilege is one of the oldest and most fundamental tenets of our legal system » and accused the Justice Department of trying to deny Mr. Trump « this fundamental right ».
Mr. Cheung added that « whether or not the lawyers’ notes are detailed makes no difference – these notes reflect the legal opinions and thoughts of the lawyer, not the client. » And he argued that Mr. Trump had tried to cooperate when Justice Department officials entered the property in June last year.
In an early scene of his account, Mr. Corcoran describes meeting Mr. Trump in Mar-a-Lago last spring to help him deal with a newly issued subpoena by a federal grand jury in Washington seeking the return of everything The material classified in the possession of his presidential office, said people familiar with the matter.
After the pleasantries, according to a description in the taped notes, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Corcoran if he should comply with the subpoena. Mr. Corcoran told him yes.
This exchange could serve prosecutors as they gather evidence that Trump sought to obstruct the subpoena process and interfere with the government’s broader efforts to recover any sensitive documents he brought with him from the White House.
But people close to Mr Trump said the conversation could be viewed in a more favorable light as a client simply asks his lawyer how he should proceed.
The recording also describes how Mr. Corcoran conducted a search of a Mar-a-Lago warehouse in an attempt to satisfy the subpoena’s request for documents, people familiar with the account said. Mr. Corcoran told a grand jury in May that several employees at the compound had told him everything he needed was kept in the storage room, located in the property’s basement, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Corcoran subsequently turned over to Justice Department officials more than three dozen documents he found during his search and drafted a letter to the department stating that a diligent search had found no more.
Notes in the recording do not suggest Mr Corcoran was removed from the search anywhere other than the warehouse, people who knew them said. But they also indicate that no one in Mar-a-Lago, including Mr. Trump, spoke up to tell him he should look elsewhere.
Eventually, it turned out that the employees who referred Mr. Corcoran to the warehouse were wrong. In August, when FBI agents descended on Mar-a-Lago with a court-approved search warrant, they found classified documents not only in Mar-a-Lago’s basement, but also in Trump’s office.
The question of who moved the boxes in and out of the warehouse – and why – has become a central part of Mr. Smith’s investigation. Prosecutors focused much of their attention on Walt Nauta, a Mr. Trump aide who took part in the box moving, and another Mar-a-Lago employee, Carlos Deoliveira, a maintenance worker who helped Mr. Nauta.
Mr. Smith’s team also focused on a related question: whether there have been attempts to interfere with government attempts to obtain security camera footage from Mar-a-Lago that could shed light on how the documents were stored in the warehouse and who had access to them. Mr. Corcoran’s notes provide some details of Mr. Nauta’s involvement in the research.
They say, for example, that Mr. Nauta opened the closet door for Mr. Corcoran, according to people who knew them. They also say that Mr. Nauta brought Mr. Corcoran duct tape so that he could seal the confidential documents he found in a folder, in preparation for handing them over to prosecutors.
There is also a reference to Mr. Corcoran’s meeting with prosecutors, which took place in Mar-a-Lago on June 3 last year. He and another attorney for Mr. Trump, Christina Bobb, met with Jay Bratt, the head of the counterintelligence section of the Justice Department’s homeland security division, to hand over the documents he found and pass on the letter stating that to the best of their knowledge he no longer stayed at Mar-a-Lago.
The notes refer to Mr. Trump’s appearance in connection with Mr. Bratt’s visit, according to a person briefed on the contents of the notes.
Judge Howell’s memorandum requiring Mr. Corcoran to answer questions before a grand jury and produce his notes described the attorney as essentially a victim of Mr. Trump’s months of gambling with investigators and National Archives officials over the return of documents, according to a person familiar with the contents of the memo.
As reported by the New York Times in April, Judge Howell wrote in the memorandum, according to the person with knowledge of its contents, that Mr. Trump’s previous actions and the « misdirection » of archives officials’ efforts to recover what was revealed that more than a dozen boxes of records were a « dress rehearsal » for the May subpoena.