Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday appears to have lost an appeal of a bombshell ruling in the criminal investigation of classified records he stored at Florida residence Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, NBC News confirmed Wednesday.
The decision will likely force one of his lawyers to testify to a federal grand jury in the criminal probe. That appeal, which was handled with unusual speed, came after a judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that DOJ’s special counsel Jack Smith had presented enough evidence to establish that Trump committed a crime through his attorneys, NBC said, citing a source briefed on the proceedings.
Normally, attorneys cannot be compelled to testify against their clients due to attorney-client privilege, which protects their communications.
But Judge Beryl Howell, as first reported by ABC News, invoked the so-called crime fraud exception to that privilege when she ordered Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran on Friday to answer questions before the grand jury.
A docket entry in the sealed appeals court case believed to be Trump’s indicates that the appeals court rejected Trump’s bid, and ordered the parties to comply with Howell’s ruling.
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Trump has been under investigation by the Justice Department since at least last year for removing hundreds of government documents, many of them classified, and keeping them at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. By law, presidents must surrender such records when they leave office.
Smith, who was appointed to oversee the probe, also is investigating whether Trump and others obstructed justice by thwarting efforts by federal officials to recover those records in the months leading up to last August’s FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago.
NBC previously reported that last June, another Trump attorney, Christina Bobb, was told by Corcoran to give DOJ officials a written statement that said a diligent search for classified records in Trump’s possession had not found any more documents. That statement turned out to be false, the raid discovered.
Trump asked the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia to overturn Howell’s decision.
A sealed appeals court case whose publicly viewable docket corresponds to the Trump case, indicates the court accepted the appeal on Tuesday, and stayed Howell’s ruling later that day.
The court then ordered Trump’s legal team to file paperwork related to the appeal by midnight, and gave the DOJ until 6 a.m. Wednesday to respond to the appeal motions.
Such a quick turnaround for mandated filings, with deadlines in the middle of the night, is extremely unusual.