(CNN) The Justice Department convinced a federal judge to do so, former President Donald Trump hired one of his attorneys to prosecute a crime or fraud related to the presence of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
The discovery — part of a Friday, key ruling by DC District Court Judge Beryl Hoyle — shows for the first time that the Justice Department says it has evidence that Trump may have committed a crime. Howell ruled that the plaintiffs bear the burden of overriding Trump’s right to protect discussions with his attorneys that are normally protected by attorney-client privilege.
The evidence is likely to be important in the obstruction investigation led by Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team. It also underscores the importance of Trump’s defense attorney’s testimony in the federal grand jury investigation.
hv news first reported the development.
The revelations come as the former president continues to face a number of high-profile investigations and lawsuits, including a years-long probe into his alleged role in a silent financial scheme for an adult movie star. There are indications that the case is drawing to a close and Trump and his advisors are nearing completion pending a possible indictment.
Trump has not been charged in the documents case, but he is still under investigation by a grand jury in Washington. A source said the plaintiffs relied on surveillance cameras to defend their case before Howell.
A spokesperson for the Office of Special Counsel did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Sources tell CNN that Howell, in his sealed judgment, determined plaintiffs were able to show that the legal services of Trump attorney Evan Corcoran were used in a criminal prosecution, so attorney-client privilege did not apply.
The Justice Department is still seeking testimony from Corcoran, after citing attorney-client privilege, as well as another Trump attorney, Jennifer Little, CNN has learned.
CNN has reached out to Corcoran and Little for comment.
On Tuesday, the Trump team requested urgent intervention from the appeals court. Three judges from the D.C. Court of Appeals moved quickly to respond, as they are still considering delaying Howell’s decision.
To demand more information and submissions from DC Circuit Judges Nina Billard, Michelle Childs and Florence Boone by early Wednesday morning, they set a deadline for Trump and his attorneys before midnight and for prosecutors to respond before 6 a.m.
Extremely tight deadlines – an unprecedented change in this court – indicate the seriousness of the case.
The DC Circuit judges also cite documents related to the dispute, asking Trump’s side to “identify.” The court order does not say anything else about what happened with the documents. But Corcoran was also ordered to turn over a number of documents, including handwritten notes and written notes of an oral conversation.
Trump sent a statement to supporters on Tuesday night criticizing ABC and calling the details “unlawfully exposing false allegations.”
This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Holmes Liebrand contributed to this report.