A top adviser to former President Donald Trump testified before a federal grand jury looking into the government documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, according to CNN.
Kash Patel, who served as a top aide to former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., during his effort to undermine the Russia probe before joining the Trump administration, has been deeply involved in the Mar-a-Lago scandal. Patel, who remains close to Trump and was named by the former president as a "representative for access to Presidential records of my administration," has claimed that he witnessed Trump declassifying records before leaving office. Weeks before the Mar-a-Lago search, Patel "vowed to retrieve classified documents from the National Archives" about the "Russiagate" probe and "publish them on his website," ABC News reported earlier this year.
Patel spent "several hours" before the D.C. grand jury investigating the handling of documents at Mar-a-Lago on October 13, sources told CNN, though it's unclear whether he answered questions or invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti warned that Patel's evidence-free claim that Trump declassified the documents is a "very difficult story to believe."
"If Patel had any sense, he wouldn't repeat it under oath to the grand jury," he tweeted.
Patel is one of a handful of post-presidential Trump advisers who could face "legal risk" in the probe, sources told CNN, though it is not clear whether he is a target of the probe.
Patel weeks earlier received a grand jury subpoena for communications he had related to the records, though it's unclear if he complied with the request, one of the sources told the outlet.
One of Patel's attorneys at the courthouse was Stanley Woodward, who is also representing one of the defendants in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy trial, according to the report.
The report notes that the grand jury activity is "indicative of how aggressive prosecutors are being" as they "pursue a possible indictment." Numerous other witnesses have been subpoenaed by the grand jury in recent months.
The Justice Department previously named Patel in the affidavit they submitted to secure the August search warrant on Mar-a-Lago.
"I am aware of an article published in Breitbart on May 5, 2022 … which states that Kash Patel, who is described as a former US administration official, characterized as 'misleading' reports in other news organizations that NARA had found classified materials among records that FPOTUS provided to NARA from Mar-a-Lago," an FBI agent said in the affidavit, parts of which were redacted. "Patel alleged that such reports were misleading because FPOTUS had declassified the materials at issue."
Patel responded by accusing the DOJ of putting him in danger by naming him in the affidavit.
"Brown Lives Matter. These gangsters are on notice," Patel, who is Indian-American, wrote on Truth Social in August.
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An analysis by New York University Law Professor Ryan Goodman at Just Security identified six interviews and statements in which Patel discussed his plan to release classified information about "Russiagate."
Patel, who reportedly got a senior White House job after Fox News host Sean Hannity brought him to meet Trump in the Oval Office and later used his position at the Defense Department to pursue evidence of Trump's election-rigging conspiracy theories, claimed that he was in the room when Trump declassified documents and planned to release them to show that he was innocent in the Russia probe. Multiple administration officials have rejected Trump's claim that he declassified documents and Trump's attorneys have presented no evidence in court.
Patel in May told Breitbart that Trump specifically declassified documents related to the FBI's Russia probe and other matters.
"It's information that Trump felt spoke to matters regarding everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security matters of great public importance — anything the president felt the American people had a right to know is in there and more," he told the outlet, adding that "Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
In another interview, he said that "we're hoping to get this information out soon."
Goodman on Twitter called Patel's testimony a "big deal" in the DOJ probe, noting that Patel has sometimes suggested he had access to the Mar-a-Lago documents.
If Patel did have access, Goodman wrote, "it will get Trump into a huge new problem for dissemination of national defense info."
Goodman also noted that the grand jury investigating the documents is in D.C., not Florida, which legal experts have suggested could lead to a worse outcome for Trump.
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, said the report suggests that the DOJ is "testing" Patel's story about the documents being declassified.
"Prosecutors must have had a field day picking that story apart!" Weissmann tweeted. "Shows Trump is [the] target and DOJ is heading toward indictment."
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman agreed that the report is an indication that the DOJ is "moving closer toward charging Trump."
The "only possible relevance" of Patel's testimony seems to be his declassification claim, Litman tweeted, "a ridiculous and legally irrelevant claim but prudent to explore it as possible defense if you're thinking of indicting Trump."