A lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump appeared before a federal grand jury investigating his handling of sensitive government documents that he took to his Mar-a-Lago club and residence after he left office, two people briefed on the matter said on Friday.
The lawyer, M. Evan Corcoran, a member of Mr. Trump’s legal team who handled his responses to the government over its repeated requests for the return of such records, could offer firsthand knowledge of the search the F.B.I. undertook in August and any insights into whether Mr. Trump knew that documents remained at the club.
Mr. Corcoran did not respond to a request for comment. And it was not immediately clear when and under what circumstances he appeared. His appearance was reported earlier by Bloomberg News.
Mr. Corcoran has raised eyebrows within the Justice Department for his statements to federal officials assuring them that Mr. Trump had returned all classified materials in his possession.
As part of Mr. Trump’s legal team, Mr. Corcoran was in discussions with the Justice Department in January 2022, after the National Archives and Records Administration recovered 15 boxes of presidential material from Mar-a-Lago containing nearly 200 individual classified documents.
In May 2022, Mr. Corcoran was in touch with the department after a grand jury subpoena was issued for any remaining classified material that Mr. Trump retained. He was also on hand the next month when the top Justice Department counterintelligence official visited Mar-a-Lago and collected more than 30 additional classified documents.
At the time, another lawyer working for Mr. Trump, Christina Bobb, signed a statement attesting that a “diligent search” for all remaining classified documents had been conducted and that what was turned over was all that remained. The attestation was drafted by Mr. Corcoran, but Ms. Bobb added language to it to make it less ironclad before signing it, according to people familiar with what took place.
More on the Trump Documents Inquiry
- Special Counsel: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Jack Smith, a longtime prosecutor, to take over the inquiry into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents. Here is what Mr. Smith’s role entails.
- Comparison With Biden Case: The disclosure that classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president were found by his lawyers in a former office prompted comparisons to Mr. Trump’s hoarding of records. But there are key differences.
- Implications: Despite the differences between them, the cases involving the president and his predecessor are similar enough that investigators may have a harder time prosecuting Mr. Trump criminally.
That statement proved to be untrue. After the visit, the Justice Department developed additional witness information and secured security camera footage that provided probable cause for the F.B.I. to execute a search warrant in August.
The search yielded more than 100 additional classified documents.
Mr. Corcoran is still representing Mr. Trump, according to a person familiar with the makeup of the legal team.
“This is nothing more than a targeted, politically motivated witch hunt against President Trump, concocted to try and prevent the American people from returning him to the White House,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump. “Just like all the other fake hoaxes thrown at President Trump, this corrupt effort will also fail. The weaponized Department of Injustice has no regard for common decency and key rules that govern the legal system.”
Mr. Corcoran is among a handful of Mr. Trump’s current lawyers with whom investigators have been interested in speaking.
Ms. Bobb is said to have met twice with the Justice Department about the matter, and spoke about Mr. Corcoran and another of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Boris Epshteyn, according to people briefed on her testimony. Mr. Epshteyn has already drawn the Justice Department’s scrutiny. Law enforcement officials seized his phone last year, apparently in connection with the investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to cling to power after he lost the 2020 election.
Late last year, the Justice Department reached out to another lawyer for Mr. Trump, Alina Habba, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
John F. Lauro, a lawyer representing both Ms. Habba and Ms. Bobb, did not respond to a request for comment.
It was not immediately clear what Ms. Habba might know about the documents case, given that she has had no direct involvement. But a statement she made in New York State court may have some relevance.
In September, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, sued Mr. Trump, three of his adult children and his company, among others, in a civil case accusing them of years of widespread fraud.
Before the suit was filed and as the investigation was underway, the attorney general’s office served subpoenas to Mr. Trump seeking documents, saying their response was not fully forthcoming. A judge agreed, prompting Ms. Habba, a lawyer in the case, to file an affidavit saying that she had searched at Mar-a-Lago for the files that Ms. James sought and found none.
In that affidavit, she mentioned scouring areas that the F.B.I., while executing its search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, discovered held classified documents.
“On May 5, 2022, I diligently searched respondent’s personal office located at Mar-a-Lago, including all desks, drawers, file cabinets, etc.,” Ms. Habba wrote in the affidavit. “I was unable to locate any documents responsive to the subpoena that have not already been produced.”
She added that she had searched his residence at Mar-a-Lago and his club at Bedminster, N.J., as well as his office there.
Late last year, the Justice Department subpoenaed a number of people around Mr. Trump who might have information related to the documents case, according to three people briefed on the matter.
In some instances, the Justice Department is seeking to speak with people who told Mr. Trump that he should comply with the National Archives’ repeated requests.
One is Alex Cannon, a lawyer who used to work for Mr. Trump and was in touch with the archives as it sought to retrieve several boxes of material. After the archives recovered the initial 15 boxes, Mr. Trump told Mr. Cannon to relay that he had returned everything, according to a person briefed on the matter. Mr. Cannon refused.
Mr. Cannon declined to comment.