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Donald Trump’s attorneys ordered to ‘produce documents’ in special counsel probe

A photo shows Donald Trump pointing.

Former President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he prepares to speak a campaign rally for Republican candidates on Oct. 9, 2022 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.)

After forcing Department of Justice attorneys to burn the midnight oil, the D.C. Circuit quickly affirmed that former President Donald Trump’s legal team must turn over “documents” to special counsel Jack Smith.

Details of the ruling are sparse, as it was filed pursuant to an appeal of a sealed case.

The public portion makes clear, however, that it will fuel the special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the former president’s possession of highly classified documents, which sparked last year’s FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.

On Tuesday evening, Politico reported that a federal appeals court set the stage for an all-hours legal battle over a ruling applying the crime-fraud exception to communications between Trump and his attorney Evan Corcoran. U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell reportedly issued the secret order in one of her final acts as the chief judge for the District of D.C.

In her ruling, Judge Howell found that Trump’s communications with his attorney Evan Corcoran likely contain evidence of a crime. The secrecy pervading the matter leaves unclear what crime the judge believed may have been committed or by whom. Trump fulminated about the decision on social media, and his attorneys lobbed an appeal before the D.C. Circuit.

A three-judge panel, comprised of U.S. Circuit Judges Cornelia Pillard, J. Michelle Childs, and Florence Pan, ordered Trump’s legal team to submit a filing by midnight and the Justice Department to respond by 6 a.m. ET the following morning.

Prosecutors obliged by deadline with a 6,455-word filing.

In the per curiam order, the appellate judges — all appointees of Democratic presidents — directed the parties to “comply with the district court’s March 17, 2023 order to produce documents.”

Howell recently ended her tenure as the District of D.C.’s chief judge. Her successor is U.S. District Judge James Boasberg.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith to serve as a special counsel in the classified documents investigation and another examination Trump’s role in the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner said in an interview that the speedy deadlines suggested that the D.C. Circuit panel had been wary of delay tactics.

“What pattern recognition tells me is that the courts were embarrassed by the ability of Donald Trump as president to run out the clock on a number of issues,” said Epner, a partner at Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC.

Trump also remains under criminal investigation in Georgia and New York, where the former president declared that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday. That date came and went with no indictment, and a grand jury reportedly investigating Trump in connection with hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels did not sit on Wednesday.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."