Pence’s Previously Redacted Documents and The Corcoran Scapegoating

Time for another update on the various investigations into stolen and mishandled documents.

Start with Mike Pence, who thus far, the press has assumed, is the safest among the three men being investigated from legal exposure.

The Friday before a holiday weekend, Pence’s team revealed FBI searched Pence’s office. The topline result was that they didn’t find any documents with classification markings, but the FBI did seize three “previously redacted documents.”

Federal agents removed three “previously redacted documents” — but none with classified markings — during an hours-long search of the office of former Vice President Mike Pence’s public policy organization Friday, Advancing American Freedom, according to a Pence spokesman.

That detail raises more questions than answers: It’s hard to understand why, even under the Presidential Records Act, FBI would seize previously redacted documents.

Further in, the same story hinted at one possible reason: if certain no-longer classified documents reveal the import of other documents marked as classified. For example, consider the possibility of a tie between the debate prep materials from Pence’s office and the package of documents seized from Pence’s home.

The documents taken Friday are believed to be materials used for 2020 debate preparation, a person familiar with the matter said.

Last week, the FBI removed one classified document and six other documents during a voluntary search of Pence’s Indiana home. A person familiar with the search told NBC News earlier this week that at least one other item was taken at that time because the relevant materials “were kept in a place that required the FBI to take more than just the documents.”

Such a tie might be exculpatory, for example: it might suggest that documents with classification markings had already been declassified in advance of some prepared debate line. Much of the debate between Pence and Kamala Harris focused on COVID response and China. It would be unsurprising for Trump to declassify information on China’s role in COVID in advance of that debate; nor would it be surprising to find such papers at Pence’s home, given his role in COVID response.

Two other topics from the debate potentially implicating classified materials might be resonate with the Trump investigation, though. To defend Trump’s national security record, for example, Pence raised the execution of Qasim Soleimani, claiming Trump ordered the attack, “when Qasim Soleimani was traveling to Baghdad, to harm two Americans.” Given the visible dates of the highly classified documents at Trump’s home, it would be unsurprising if one or several of those documents related to this decision, stolen as trophies of Trump’s most self-satisfying order as President.

Also in the debate, as part of a false claim that he and Trump had been spied on by the FBI, Pence raised a CIA document unsealed and submitted to the Mike Flynn docket days earlier.

[T]he FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign. I mean there were documents released this week that the CIA actually made a referral to the FBI documenting that those allegations were coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign

If these were among the previously redacted documents at Pence’s home, it would suggest that Trump’s obsession with stealing documents pertaining to the Russian investigation had spilled (heh) over into documents in Pence’s possession.

This is all speculative. But the report that FBI took documents that would not obviously substantiate either the mishandling of classified documents or a violation of the Presidential Records Act for the first time suggests that FBI may be pursuing some more interesting explanation for the classified documents at Pence’s home.

Things get more interesting when you turn to Mar-a-Lago.

Also on Friday, Rolling Stone told a tale that suggests Trump is being advised to ditch Evan Corcoran as a lawyer because he’ll soon be charged. To be clear: neither Rolling Stone nor I are claiming Corcoran will be charged.

The story, by Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley, is likely legal nonsense. But the two have reported a series of insider stories on Trump world that capture — perhaps more than any other journalistic team — the batshittery going on close to the former President. This is not bad reporting. Rather, it seems to be accurate reporting that captures the batshittery and bullshit of Trump’s inner circle. One story that is a close analogue of this one described how Trump wanted to expose the IDs of people involved in the Russian investigation, on that piggybacked off a NYT story that served as cover for the centrality of Russian documents in Trump’s obsession with stealing documents.

Anyway, this story may be explained by two earlier reports.

On February 14, the NYT version of the story that DOJ was seeking a crime-fraud waiver for Corcoran’s testimony included the detail — amid reports that multiple witnesses have been asked about Boris Epshteyn’s role in withholding the stolen documents — that Epshteyn once sought to establish a joint representation.

Prosecutors overseeing the documents investigation have also been asking witnesses questions about Boris Epshteyn, who has played a central role in coordinating lawyers on several of the investigations involving Mr. Trump, according to multiple people briefed on the matter. It was Mr. Epshteyn who first brought Mr. Corcoran into Mr. Trump’s orbit.

At least three lawyers have sat for interviews with the Justice Department during which questions about Mr. Epshteyn were asked — among them Ms. Bobb and, more recently, Alina Habba, people with knowledge of the matter said. A third lawyer close to Mr. Trump, Jesse Binnall, has also spoken with prosecutors about Mr. Epshteyn, the people said.

One person briefed on the interviews said that investigators were interested in discussions between Mr. Epshteyn and others about establishing a possible common-interest privilege in the documents case. A common-interest privilege creates a kind of umbrella privilege allowing groups of lawyers and clients to communicate with each other confidentially.

Such common-interest agreements are frequently used in cases with multiple lawyers and multiple witnesses. But prosecutors are asking questions indicating they’re interested in whether Mr. Epshteyn was trying to improperly influence witness testimony, the person briefed on the interviews said.

The NYT story bears the same markers of MAL bullshit that some others on this story do, notably, claiming that Beryl Howell has always ruled against Trump when (among other things) she has deferred certain decisions, like holding Trump in contempt, forcing DOJ to do more work. There’s good reason to believe the claim is just the regurgitated bullshit claims made by Trump’s lawyers.

On February 17, Reuters reported (and thus far, they appear to be alone with this scoop) that Corcoran’s firm hired an attorney to represent him.

A lawyer for former President Donald Trump retained an attorney to represent himself as prosecutors step up their inquiry into the handling of sensitive documents at Trump’s Florida residence, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

Evan Corcoran, who has represented Trump in interactions with the government over presidential records taken to his Mar-a-Lago resort, has turned to Michael Levy, a prominent white-collar lawyer in Washington, according to people familiar with the matter.

Levy was hired by Corcoran’s law firm, Silverman Thompson Slutkin & White, to represent Corcoran in the probe, according to one of the people.

This is not surprising. It’s grown up lawyering. But it provides important context of Epshteyn’s call to adopt a joint defense, in part because it explains with whom Epshteyn might want to form a mutual defense, in addition to the lawyer representing Christina Bobb and Alina Habba.

With that background in mind, take a look at the Rolling Stone piece. It describes not that Corcoran will be charged, but that Trump is being advised he will be.

In at least three meetings this year, according to two sources familiar with the matter, legal and political counselors to Trump have urged him to dump Evan Corcoran, one of the ex-president’s top attorneys in the federal probe into Trump’s handling of classified documents.

Some of the former president’s lawyers have explicitly told Trump that, based on information they have privately reviewed, they believe the Department of Justice has a strong case against Corcoran, arguing charges — including potentially for obstruction of justice — are “very likely,” the sources said. These advisers have argued that if the Justice Department indeed does come for Corcoran, it’s imperative for Trump to distance himself to avoid being dragged into possible further legal jeopardy by his own attorney.

Trump, the sources say, sounded “receptive” to their perspective. However, as of mid-February, it appears he wasn’t as receptive as they had hoped: Corcoran is still on Trump’s legal team.

As RS describes it, this is explicitly an attempt to pin the blame for what happened last summer on Corcoran.

Several of Trump’s close advisers who’ve recently spoken to him about this have argued to the ex-president that any potential wrongdoing on this matter could, somehow, be pinned entirely on Corcoran, and not Trump himself.

Even better, it includes this claim — that excludes Epshteyn from the list of lawyers whom DOJ might be targeting.

“These types of motions [requesting that a judge nullify attorney-client privilege based on the crime-fraud exception] would only be served upon the attorneys who’ve appeared in the case: Jim Trusty, John Rowley, Evan Corcoran, Tim Parlatore, and Lindsey Halligan; the five of them would be the only people who have access to these documents,” says a person familiar with the internal proceedings of Trump’s legal team. “Any source other than that would not be speaking from a position of access and would likely be speaking based on their own personal agenda, rather than actual facts. [Furthermore], when DOJ targets lawyers, it is often being done from a position of weakness in their underlying case, as a method of undermining the integrity of the defense legal team. Removal of Evan Corcoran … would serve the purpose of giving DOJ exactly what it wanted.” [bracket original]

Epshteyn has been at the center of these discussions from the start — he’s the guy who brought in Corcoran, he’s the guy who called up Christina Bobb and had her show up to be a fallgal for a misleading declaration on June 3. To exclude him from this comment — either because he’s the one you’re talking to or because someone is trying to obscure his centrality in all of it — is telling.

Trump’s lawyers believe that they can wait out the end of Beryl Howell’s term and they’ll be the ones who decide whether DOJ can get a crime-fraud exception for Corcoran’s testimony. That may not even be the case if Corcoran plays along. But if he doesn’t — if his own lawyer advises him that fighting a crime-fraud determination puts him in legal risk he’s not currently in — then it may explain why people at MAL are trying to preemptively claim Corcoran was behind a lot of epically shitty legal advice last summer and not Epshteyn.

38 replies
  1. Rugger_9 says:

    If/when Corcoran gets put into Coffee Boy land where no one ever heard of the guy, I wonder if he’ll return the favor like Michael Cohen did.

    • Cthulhu says:

      If he was smart, he’d be doing this already, but nobody in trump’s orbit can claim to be intelligent.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Many thanks. We all benefit from your acumen, memory, and boundless energy. One might think you once played rugby.

    • bmaz says:

      Kind of doubt Trump will testify at any of the J6 trials, especially the PBs one in progress currently. Doubt a trial judge would want that sideshow under Rule 403.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Few lawyers would willingly put TFG on the stand for any reason. Being subject to cross examination by a skilled opponent would almost certainly demolish whatever purposes Trump took the stand to further. Not to mention, he has a record of lying about big and little things longer than his proverbial red tie.

      • Rugger_9 says:

        All one has to do is look how the known depositions went, e.g. badly. So, if I’m the government, let the (PB?) subpoenas loose and grill him as a hostile witness.

        • bmaz says:

          Lol, who knows about what the assigned judge will do, but if I were judge, no way I am allowing that circus in the courtroom. None.

        • Cthulhu says:

          This. It’s one thing for him to plead the 5th while seated next to his lawyer, but he won’t be able to keep his yap shut on the stand, with a smart prosecutor attacking him and his ego. He’ll respond, and self incriminate.

  3. Willis Warren says:

    why do journalists keep falling for the bullshit stories trump leaks? the “I got a classified kink” story is obvious bullshit. It’s infuriating because they think they’re making him look bad.

    • BobBobCon says:

      So much comes down to the character of the editors in charge, even more so than the individual reporters.

      Some, like Sally Buzbee at the Washington Post and Chuck Todd at NBC are absolute zeros. They are clueless about what’s actually happening in DC, weak at setting priorities, and in the environments they’ve created, it’s natural for reporters to essentially phone it in.

      There’s simply no reason for hacks like Josh Dawsey or Peter Alexander to bother to work any harder.

      Others, like Carolyn Ryan at the NY Times, are actively rotten influences. Getting ahead, or even keeping your job, means following the biases of the boss to a T. Under Ryan, if you’re not automatically getting three sources to validate the point of view of Trump and Ron DeSantis, you aren’t worthy of a job at the Times.

      If the story you’re following is bulletproof, you’re allowed to write something inconvenient to those two. But it’s always much, much easier under Carolyn Ryan to just recycle spin from one of Trump’s attorneys or DeSantis’s PR flacks than it is to do independent reporting.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          You want documentation? Just go back and read the Times’ coverage of Trump, starting in 2016 (when his campaign began to be taken seriously) and if you can stand it through to the present.

          Then read their coverage of the Clinton 2016 campaign.

  4. Savage Librarian says:

    Today I read the 9/28/17 interview of Boris Epshteyn that the HPSCI did. It’s 98 pages. There was a lot of beating around the bush. But there are things that stood out to me. I think it was interesting that he mentioned Bryan Lanza, especially since Lanza now works for Mercury Public Affairs (where Susie Wiles also works now.) Epshteyn doesn’t admit to much. But he does admit to being introduced to Andrew Intrater. Epshteyn also shares some info about his company, Strategy International.

    p.50 – 51

    Speier: And who were you mostly in contact with on a day-to-day basis in Trump Tower?

    Epshteyn: The communications staff, Jason Miller, Bryan Lanza. Bryan Lanza ran the surrogate booking operation of the campaign. Kellyanne. Folks who ran the campaign.

    p.56 – 57

    Speier: And so when you were a surrogate, who provided you the talking points?

    Epshteyn: …And then Bryan Lanza joined the campaign, and it was Bryan and his team who would distribute the talking points…

    p.84 –

    When questioned (bySwalwell) Epshteyn admits that he knows who Andrew Intrater is.

    p.88 –

    Speier: I’m trying to just be clear about your company, Strategy International. You created it in 2009, correct?

    Epshteyn: So, it was created, I think, as an LLC. It was probably registered in the 90’s. But I added the – – it was – – you know, it was a business that – – my mother is in real estate, so – – and, you know, so it was a business entity. It was pretty much – – I think it was dormant. And then I added Strategy International, because it was a name that sounds like a name that people would be interested in getting consulting services.

    Speier: But the purpose of that was to do business in Eastern Europe.

    Epshteyn: No. The purpose was to assist companies from the U.S. or somewhere else with potentially doing business in Eastern Europe.

      • viget says: have no idea, Rayne. This one hits real close to home for me.

        Just learned an awful lot about Epshteyn I probably should have known, but didn’t. Wow.

        Suffice it to say, this sounds like one of the spookiest ghost stories I’ve heard in a while.

        • Rayne says:

          I have fretted over Epshteyn since before he became part of Trump’s administration. Thankfully that didn’t last long but the damage may have already been done, beginning with the legitimization of whatever propaganda he would share as a former admin official.

          Everything about him is sketchy.

        • bmaz says:

          You understand that DM’s at Mastodon are NOT secure in the least, not even close to what still, for time being, exists at Twitter, right? Mastodon DM has no security whatsoever. Try email.

        • Rayne says:

          That goes for Twitter, too. Anyone using DMs in a social media platform can’t count on them being both encrypted end-to-end and safe from prying eyes within platform administration.

    • Zinsky123 says:

      Richard Corcoran is a piece of work, but not Evan Corcoran’s brother. Richard is Ron DeSantis’s pick to be on the Board of the New Florida School, a de novo fascist citadel of higher education, despite being under a cloud for a bid-rigging scandal. Richard’s brother Michael, is apparently a well-connected Republican operative in Florida, so the whole family is deeply awash in GOP politics. Here is his Wikipedia page:

  5. DaveC2022 says:


    “Trump’s lawyers believe that they can wait out the end of Beryl Howell’s term and they’ll be the ones who decide whether DOJ can get a crime-fraud exception for Corcoran’s testimony. ”

    Beryl Howell’s term? Life appointment? I don’t understand Marcy’s observation.

    • c-i-v-i-l says:

      Howell has a life appointment to the court, but is only Chief Judge for seven years; then another judge becomes Chief Judge. Howell became Chief Judge in March of 2016, so her seven year term ends soon.

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