Home / Blog / Trump lawyer said to have been waved off searching office for secret records

Trump lawyer said to have been waved off searching office for secret records

Aug 15, 2023Aug 15, 2023

Exclusive: Evan Corcoran said he was steered away from Trump's office, where the FBI later found the most sensitive materials

Donald Trump's lawyer tasked with searching for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after the justice department issued a subpoena told associates that he was waved off from searching the former president's office, where the FBI later found the most sensitive materials anywhere on the property.

The lawyer, Evan Corcoran, recounted that several Trump aides had told him to search the storage room because that was where all the materials that had been brought from the White House at the end of Trump's presidency ended up being deposited.

Corcoran found 38 classified documents in the storage room. He then asked whether he should search anywhere else, like Trump's office, but was steered away, he told associates. Corcoran never searched the office and told prosecutors the 38 papers were the extent of the material at Mar-a-Lago.

The assertion that there were no classified documents elsewhere at the property proved to be wrong when the FBI seized 101 classified documents months afterwards, including from the office, which was found to be where the most highly classified documents had been located.

Corcoran's previously unreported account, as relayed to the Guardian by two people familiar with the matter, suggests he was materially misled as the special counsel Jack Smith examines whether his incomplete search was actually a ploy by Trump to retain classified documents.

It was not clear who waved off Corcoran from searching elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago – whether it was Trump himself or Trump employees who advised him to look for classified documents in the storage room, according to an account of his testimony to the grand jury.

Corcoran did not respond to a request for comment.

A Trump spokesperson said: "This is completely false and rooted in pure fantasy. The real story is the illegal weaponization of the justice department and their witch-hunts targeted to influence an election in order to try and prevent President Trump from returning to the White House."

The criminal investigation, which appears to be nearing its end, has recently focused on why the subpoena was not complied with, including whether Trump might have arranged for boxes of classified documents to be moved out of the storage room so he could retain them.

In particular, prosecutors have examined why Trump ordered his valet, Walt Nauta, to move certain boxes out of the storage room before and after the subpoena was issued – as Nauta later told the justice department – and crucially where the boxes might have been taken.

The movement of boxes has taken on added significance for prosecutors after they saw on surveillance tapes that boxes were returned to the storage room on 2 June 2022, the day before the justice department travelled to Mar-a-Lago to collect what Corcoran had found, the Washington Post reported.

It was also not clear when Corcoran was waved off from searching other parts of Mar-a-Lago; it could be notable if it came before the boxes were brought back to the storage room, as it would raise questions as to whether he was held off while classified documents were moved back.

The Guardian has previously reported that prosecutors determined Trump and Nauta knew when and where Corcoran intended to search because Corcoran needed Nauta to unlock the storage room, according to Corcoran's roughly 50 pages of notes that were turned over to the grand jury in the case.

Corcoran also memorialized how he told Trump he could not retain any classified documents at Mar-a-Lago when Trump asked what he was allowed to keep, as well as when he took breaks during the search by walking out to the pool deck nearby, and therefore leaving the storage room unattended.

To obtain Corcoran's account, otherwise off-limits because of attorney-client privilege, prosecutors persuaded a US appeals court to pierce the protection because Trump may have used Corcoran's legal advice in furtherance of a crime, according to another lawyer briefed on the case.

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While Corcoran testified that Trump did not personally mislead him about where to search at Mar-a-Lago, he also acknowledged that Trump did not suggest he look anywhere else. The New York Times earlier reported a summary of his testimony.

Corcoran appears to have been told the prevailing belief among Trump aides and employees at the time: that any classified documents would probably be in the storage room with the rest of the material brought from the White House at the end of Trump's presidency.

Before he could start his search, Corcoran ended up telling Nauta about the subpoena, where at Mar-a-Lago he was searching and when he was searching, because Corcoran needed Nauta to unlock the storage room so he could gain access.

Once he gained entry, Corcoran realized he needed a deadline extension because he was the only Trump lawyer dealing with the subpoena and had underestimated the number of boxes there. The justice department agreed to a shorter extension that he wanted, and pushed the reply date to June.

As the new subpoena deadline approached, Corcoran asked around whether there were other locations at Mar-a-Lago that he should search to ensure the response would be complete. Corcoran was told just searching the storage room should be sufficient and he did not look anywhere else.

Corcoran completed his search of just the storage room and told the justice department on 2 June 2022 to collect some documents the next morning. When prosecutors arrived, he provided a certification letter signed – and caveated – by another Trump lawyer, Christina Bobb, which attested to a "diligent search".

The subpoena had been issued to Trump's political office, and Corcoran treated it as an administrative subpoena and assumed he would be in recurring contact with the justice department about the documents matter, he has told associates.

When Corcoran turned over the 38 classified documents, according to court filings, he told the department the "records that came from the White House were stored within one location at Mar-a-Lago, the storage room … [and] he was not advised there were any records in any private office space".

But that advice turned out to be wrong. When the FBI returned with a warrant months later, agents found in Trump's desk drawer two classified documents mixed together with three other documents dated after Trump left the presidency, the Guardian has reported.

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