Three key Trump figures intersect two Justice Department probes
Three key figures connected to former President Trump are at the intersection of two accelerating Justice Department probes seen as the most viable pathways for a prosecution of the former president.
Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing what began as two entirely separate cases: the mishandling of classified records at Mar-a-Lago and the effort to influence the 2020 election that culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Several Trump World figures straddle both events, providing prosecutors with what experts say is a potent opportunity to advance both investigations.
Alex Cannon, Christina Bobb and Kash Patel played different roles in the two sagas, but each has been sought by the Justice Department in the documents dispute and has also been called in by the special House committee, now disbanded, that investigated the Jan. 6 riot.
Cannon, a longtime Trump Organization employee, was pulled into campaign efforts to assess allegations of voter fraud and then served as a liaison for Trump with the National Archives as officials there pushed for the recovery of presidential records.
Bobb, a lawyer for Trump’s 2024 campaign, aided in the Trump 2020 campaign’s post-election lawsuits. She later shifted to doing legal work for Trump that culminated in her signing a statement asserting classified records stored at Mar-a-Lago had been returned.
Patel was chief of staff to the secretary of Defense as the Pentagon was grappling with Jan. 6. Trump also named Patel as one of his representatives to the National Archives upon leaving office, and he was later one of Trump’s chief surrogates in pushing claims that the former president declassified the records discovered in his Florida home.
It’s unclear whether any of the trio faces significant legal exposure, but their unique positions could be valuable for Smith, who is racing forward with both cases. In recent weeks, Smith has subpoenaed former Vice President Mike Pence and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, while securing another batch of materials from Mar-a-Lago.
“Typically, you don’t have two separate investigations and two separate sets of possible crimes to work with as you’re negotiating. Smith does have that here,” said Norm Eisen, a counsel for Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment who has penned analyses of both cases.
“For him, it’s like a two-for-one sale. If he cuts a cooperation deal with some of these individuals, he can advance multiple cases at the same time,” Eisen added.
Patel was granted immunity by a judge and compelled to answer questions in the Mar-a-Lago case after being previously subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury and repeatedly pleading the Fifth. Bobb has also spoken with prosecutors in relation to the case and testified before a grand jury. And the Justice Department is seeking to speak to Cannon about his dealings with the National Archives, The New York Times reported.
“I think that is a potential fruitful avenue for the Justice Department in these cases,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney under President Obama. “Their overlap in the two cases is very interesting, because you could use criminal exposure in one case to flip them in the other case.”
Attorneys for Cannon and Bobb did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story, while a spokesperson for Patel declined to comment. The Trump campaign also did not respond to request for comment.
To be clear, other figures also may have insight into the two probes, including Meadows and former deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin. Former White House attorney Eric Herschmann is also reported to have warned Trump about holding records at Mar-a-Lago.
Still, the trove of transcripts released by the House Jan. 6 committee offers a window into three figures who, despite diverging paths, became central in the Mar-a-Lago probe.
Bobb and Patel, who now serves on the board of Trump’s social media enterprise, remain deeply enmeshed with the former president.
Cannon was most recently employed by Michael Best, a law firm that in December severed its ties with several Trump-connected attorneys, including Stefan Passantino, who represented former aides before the Jan. 6 panel. The firm also allowed contracts with Cannon and former Trump deputy campaign manager Justin Clark to lapse, Bloomberg News reported.
The firm did not respond to a request for comment.
Cannon, who was initially hired to work on contracts for the Trump Organization, expressed hesitation during interviews with the Jan. 6 panel about being pulled into working on fraud issues for the campaign as the pandemic brought hotel operations to a trickle.
“I believe that the only reason I was asked to do this is because others didn’t want to. I have no particular experience with election law or anything. I do vendor contracts,” he told the committee.
When asked if he found that work undesirable, he responded, “I’m sitting here right now. Yes, it’s undesirable.”
The conversations show Cannon was tasked with evaluating a number of claims from “crazy people,” as he once described it, as well as other claims that dead people may have voted — something he was unable to verify given limitations in voter databases.
He ultimately relayed those concerns to Pence, recounting to the committee in what would become a brief appearance in a hearing that “I was not personally finding anything sufficient to alter the results of the election.”
It was a stance that caught the eye of former Trump adviser Peter Navarro.
“Mr. Navarro accused me of being an agent of the deep state working … against the president. And I never took another phone call from Mr. Navarro,” Cannon said.
Bobb, in contrast, made clear in her interview that she believed there was suspicious activity on Election Day that merited review.
Once a reporter for the far-right One America News, Bobb had come to the network after working as an attorney, including during stints with the Marine Corps. She would later get a master of laws degree from Georgetown University, joining the Trump administration at the Department of Homeland Security after graduation.
While working as a One America News employee, she volunteered her time to the Trump campaign immediately after the election. The arrangement was approved by the network, though the campaign required her to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“There was plenty of evidence to be concerned about fraud,” she said, even if the legal team wasn’t prepared to launch a case on the first day following the election.
“I volunteered and I wanted to look into it because I was concerned about the integrity of my vote, of the country. I think that’s why we all got involved. So I don’t want you to take my statement and say, Christina Bobb said that in the beginning the legal team knew there was no fraud. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying there was plenty of reason to believe there could be fraud.”
Bobb was present in the “war room” at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 6 and was listening in to Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — a discussion she told the panel was “unremarkable.”
The Jan. 6 committee transcripts indicate Cannon and Bobb had no interaction throughout the litigation process, with Bobb saying they did not connect until after President Biden was sworn in. Bobb told investigators she didn’t speak with Cannon until later, adding nothing more when investigators asked if it was on an unrelated matter.
Bobb’s role with Trump on the Mar-a-Lago documents picked up where Cannon left off.
In February 2022, Cannon declined Trump’s request to sign a statement indicating all classified material at Mar-a-Lago had been returned because he wasn’t sure the statement was true, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
Bobb would join the team later, agreeing to sign a declaration given to the Justice Department in June attesting that all sensitive government documents had been returned — with the stipulation that her attestation was “based upon the information that has been provided to me.”
“The contrast between the two as lawyers speaks volumes,” said Josh Stanton, an attorney with Perry Guha who contributed to a model prosecution memo for the Mar-a-Lago case.
“Alex Cannon refus[es] to sign a certification that everything had been turned over where he wasn’t able to do himself the diligent work to actually independently verify that, whereas Christina Bobb is in a position where she’s told to sign the certification, and is told that that’s correct, then just goes ahead and signs it anyway,” he said.
“Whether or not you could actually make out, say, criminal charges against Christina Bobb for signing that certification … it certainly puts her ethically, as a lawyer, in really hot water,” he added.
Patel, who spoke to the Jan. 6 committee after being subpoenaed, began his deposition with an opening statement expressing frustration that the panel did not think he would be cooperative with its investigation.
Patel later answered questions during a lengthy interview after noting privilege concerns, but investigators at times seemed baffled by details the former high-ranking Defense Department official could not remember. Patel struggled to recall specifics about some conversations with Trump and demurred when asked about reported plans near the end of the Trump presidency to install him as head of the CIA.
“I know you guys try to think this is improbable, but I was in one of those positions for a two-year period of time, approximately, where I had many conversations with the president impacting things that I would only read about or watch in movies,” he said.
“So, after a certain period of time, they tend to stack up and you just do the mission,” Patel added.
Patel largely sidestepped questions on whether Trump should have done more to stop the chaos on Jan. 6, but spoke at length about the process for securing assistance from the National Guard and Trump’s approval for the use of as many as 20,000 troops that day.
The committee panned Trump’s inaction as dereliction of duty, and Stanton said Patel’s comments could forecast a response should Trump or others face culpability for Jan. 6.
“Some of the most powerful testimony in the hearings themselves was the sort of hours Trump seemed not to act. And so I think he’s previewing what they’re going to say, which is, ‘Oh, no, I actually did authorize 10,000 or 20,000 National Guard members to be able to respond,’” he said.
In the Mar-a-Lago probe, Patel repeatedly asserted his Fifth Amendment rights during his first appearance before a grand jury.
“Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves,” Patel told Breitbart News in May.
“The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified,” Patel said. “I was there with President Trump when he said ‘We are declassifying this information.’”
Trump’s attorneys have not directly backed that claim, though it would not be a bulletproof defense should he face Espionage Act charges, as the law deals with those who mishandle “national defense information.”
The special counsel appears to be ratcheting up the probes in recent weeks, even seeking to pierce the attorney-client privilege of Evan Corcoran, one of Trump’s attorneys in the document dispute, arguing his legal advice may have been given in furtherance of a crime.
It’s a move observers say should give warning to other attorneys involved in the probe.
“Any lawyer associated with Donald Trump is at great risk,” Eisen said. “I mean, he’s like a neutron bomb for the legal profession.”
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