Kash Patel’s reported agreement to testify in the US Justice Department’s investigation into Donald Trump’s possession of sensitive government documents has legal commentators predicting that prosecutors are closing in on the former president.
Patel, a Trump associate, won immunity for agreeing to testify before a federal grand jury regarding documents stored at the ex-president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. Former federal prosecutors and other legal experts said the ruling signals that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is mounting a criminal case against Trump.
Norman Eisen, attorney and fellow at the Brookings Institution, said during an appearance on CNN In the front that Patel made the reported deal to avoid incrimination as the DOJ continues to investigate whether Trump illegally took government documents from the White House to his South Florida home at the end of his presidency .
“I think here it also means serious criminal peril for Donald Trump,” Eisen said. “Because it’s quite unusual to grant this immunity to a witness.”
The DOJ in August released a redacted version of the affidavit used to justify the court-approved search of Trump’s home. Patel, who served as the acting defense secretary’s chief of staff during the final days of the Trump administration, reacted angrily to being named in the document, echoing claims that the investigation is politically motivated.
The affidavit refers to Patel’s claim that he saw that Trump had declassified all classified documents taken from his home. Last month, Patel refused to answer prosecutor’s questions about whether Trump mishandled government documents and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against indictment before a grand jury, reports the Time.
Both The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian also reported that Patel agreed to testify after prosecutors granted him immunity.
But Stanley Woodward, who represents Patel, said Newsweek in an email that “We categorically deny that an agreement has been reached or that such an agreement is desired. We further decline to comment.”
Renato Mariotti, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, said in a Twitter thread that the DOJ likely entered into the reported immunity deal with Patel to get him to testify under oath that his statements about Trump declassifying the documents were false.
Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, has previously claimed to have declassified the documents. Patel’s testimony could undermine a possible defense of the former president, Mariotti said.
“This is a very common practice among federal prosecutors,” Mariotti said. “Wrongdoers often have associates who offer implausible defenses, and forcing these witnesses to testify usually results in them admitting the truth.”
Lawyer and commentator Tristan Snell said in a tweet that the announced deal with Patel means “Trump’s firewall on the documents case is starting to crumble.”
“Patel’s testimony will inspire others to save themselves too,” he said.
Laurence Tribe, a former Harvard Law School professor, agreed.
“This will break the dam,” he said in a tweet.