“Never seen anything like it”: "Aggressive" Trump special counsel hauls lawyers before grand jury

Jack Smith is giving Trump's attorneys the "option of being codefendants or cooperating witnesses," expert says

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published February 13, 2023 12:52PM (EST)

Donald Trump (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Two of former President Donald Trump's attorneys have reportedly appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the former president's handling of sensitive government documents that he took to his Mar-a-Lago club and residence after he left office.

Trump attorney Evan Corcoran, who handled the former president's responses to the government over its requests for the return of records, was interviewed before a grand jury, The New York Times reported on Friday. Fellow attorney Christina Bobb, who signed an affidavit affirming that Trump had returned all classified materials in response to a grand jury subpoena in June before the FBI found additional documents marked classified during an August search, also appeared before the grand jury, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed to oversee the investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents and his involvement in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol less than three months ago, is "moving aggressively" in the probe before the 2024 presidential campaign gets underway this summer, according to a recent report by The Times. 

Smith's team is also looking to interview Trump attorney Alina Habba, who is not representing Trump in the Mar-a-Lago case but said in an affidavit in another case that she searched the former president's office and residence in May, according to the report.  Prosecutors are also seeking to question former Trump attorney Alex Cannon, who reportedly advised Trump to cooperate with the government's requests to return the documents.

"I've never seen anything like it," Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and senior FBI official, told the Times. "It's just a whirling dust cloud, and everyone who gets near it gets covered in grime."

Former U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance said the report makes it sound like Smith is "fixing to give some Trump lawyers & aides the option of being codefendants or cooperating witnesses."

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Last week, Smith issued a subpoena to former Vice President Mike Pence, who is one of the people best positioned to provide information about Trump's actions and state of mind in the days leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol.

While Smith has been focused on the Jan. 6 investigations and the document's case, he is also examining Save America, a pro-Trump political action committee through which Trump raised millions of dollars with his false claims of election fraud. As part of his investigation, Smith is looking into how and why the committee's vendors were paid. A vast array of Trump vendors have been subpoenaed, the Times reported. 

Smith's operation structure closely resembles the organization he oversaw when he ran the Justice Department's public integrity unit from 2010 to 2015, The Times reported. His first three hires included J.P. Cooney, Raymond Hulser and David Harbach – all of whom were trusted colleagues during his time in the department. 

His team is looking through testimony provided by the House Jan. 6 committee, including witness statements on the fake electors scheme in which Trump's advisers and campaign officials assembled alternate slates of Trump electors from contested states that he lost.

"When zealous prosecutors are intent on bringing a case, they leave no stone unturned," former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut wrote at The Bulwark, adding that the Pence subpoena "makes clear that the special counsel is proceeding full speed ahead on that front, too."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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