A little-noticed court filing unsealed this week as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing probe could have big consequences for his other targets — showing he’s willing to use suspects’ lawyers to provide evidence against them, reported the Washington Post.
After unsealing a 12-count indictment against President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the U.S. District Court also unsealed an opinion from Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell saying one of Manafort’s former lawyers could be compelled to testify to the grand jury.
Typically, such information is protected by attorney-client privilege — a bedrock principle of U.S. legal practice that says a lawyer must keep confidential what they are told by their clients.
There are some exceptions to that confidentiality, including in instances where a suspect may have lied to his or her lawyer, causing that lawyer to unwittingly lie to the government. Howell ruled that in Manafort’s case, the exception applied and the attorney could be called to testify before the grand jury.
“The opinion is troubling, because people make representations to the government all the time through their lawyers, and I think there’s a general expectation of confidentiality behind the conversations that go into those representations,’’ said Peter D. Hardy, a partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm. “It’s widening a door that’s not often used. And the wider the door gets, maybe the more people will use it.’’
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