Does Jack Smith’s Road To Convicting Trump Snake Through His Lawyers?

As the former president’s legal woes multiply, his attorneys have been exposed to threats from which lawyers would normally be protected.

AP/Andrew Harnik
President Trump at Mar-a-Lago on November 8, 2022. AP/Andrew Harnik

Mayor Giuliani’s report that he “voluntarily” met with the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith, along with the increasing prosecutorial focus on another one of President Trump’s attorneys, John Eastman, brings into focus the reality that the legal danger to Mr. Trump extends to his lawyers as well, several of whom will face both carrots and sticks to turn on their erstwhile boss. 

In “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump writes of his first legal mentor, Roy Cohn, who successfully prosecuted Juliua and Ethel Rosenberg, both of whom went to the electric chair: “I don’t kid myself about Roy. He was no Boy Scout.” Now, some of the real estate mogul’s troop of attorneys are in the hot seat. 

To a remarkable extent, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have become part of the story: as witnesses, convicted felons, targets of investigation, and, potentially, as criminal co-conspirators. From Florida to Georgia to the White House, these officers of the court have become drawn into Mr. Trump’s multiplying legal woes.

In each of the two indictments that have already been handed up — and those that yet could be — an attorney has played a crucial role. Mr. Smith, who cut his teeth prosecuting war crimes, now appears set to confront not only a former president, but his fellow members of the bar, more used to advising defendants than being one.  

A spokesman for Mr. Giuliani, Ted Goodman, in a statement noted of the parley between Mr. Smith’s office and his client that “the appearance was entirely voluntary and conducted in a professional manner.” The former mayor was also informed last summer that he is a target in District Attorney Fani Willis’s criminal probe into efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. 

Mr. Giuliani spent hours testifying before a Fulton County special grand jury, a body whose work is under seal but whose voluble forewoman, Emily Kohrs, indicated could include recommendations for charging 12 people. A lawyer for another of Mr. Trump’s lawyers in the Peachtree State, Ray Smith III, said that in Ms. Willis’s probe, his client is “something between a target and witness.”

Mr. Eastman is another attorney who appears to be of interest to both Ms. Willis and the special prosecutor. A former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, Mr. Eastman was the legal architect of the effort to replace electors sworn to President Biden with those who would cast their ballots for Mr. Trump. 

Mr. Eastman, too, testified before the Fulton County grand jury, though he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against incrimination. His lawyers, Harvey Silverglate and Charles Burnham, explained that they advised their client to “assert attorney client privilege and the constitutional right to remain silent where appropriate.” 

Mr. Smith, who is charged by Attorney General Garland with investigating the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, is likely scrutinizing Mr. Eastman’s involvement during that period. During a meeting at the Oval Office on January 5, 2021, Mr. Eastman told Vice President Pence that he had the authority to refuse to certify Mr. Biden as the winner of the 2020 election. Mr. Pence was not persuaded and chose not to pursue that course of action.   

A linchpin of Mr. Smith’s Mar-a-Lago case is “Attorney 1,” known to be Evan Corcoran. He is a protagonist of the story told in the four corners of Mr. Smith’s indictment, appearing just a day after Mr. Trump’s valet, Waltine Nauta, allegedly moved boxes out of a storage room and to the former president’s residence. 

Mr. Corcoran’s notes, a first-hand account of what happened at the Palm Beach manse, are now a crucial component of Mr. Smith’s case, thanks to the crime-fraud exception, which mandates that attorney-client privilege — which usually protects communication between lawyers and their clients — melts away when that contact is committed in furtherance of a crime.   

The indictment also quotes Mr. Corcoran’s recollection that Mr. Trump asked him, in respect of efforts by federal agents to recover documents, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” Mr. Corcoran also recalls Mr. Trump asking with respect to federal agents, “What happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?”  

In another instance, the lawyer recalls his client making a “plucking motion,” which the lawyer interpreted as telegraphing “if there’s anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it out.” The New York Times reports that Mr. Corcoran orally recorded these recollections on his iPhone while driving and then transcribed them on paper.

The lawyer with whom Mr. Trump’s fate is most inextricably linked is also the one who has turned on his former boss with vehemence. Michael Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006 and by 2016 found himself paying a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to allegedly keep quiet about her affair with Mr. Trump. 

For masking those payments, Cohen was charged with tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations. He pleaded guilty to eight counts, was disbarred, imprisoned, and, of late, denied an early end to probation after a three-year prison sentence because of what the judge and prosecutors called untruths contained in, among other places, his book from 2022, “Revenge.”

Now, Cohen is at the center of District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s 34-count indictment of Mr. Trump, which hinges on the same transactions for which Cohen has already served time. He has pledged to tell his story in court and “speak truth to power.”

In an evaluation that is unlikely to have changed since, Mr. Trump in 2018 tweeted, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”  

The New York Sun

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