Kash Patel’s reported deal to testify in the U.S. Department of Justice’s probe of Donald Trump’s possession of sensitive government documents has legal commentators predicting that prosecutors are closing in on the former president.
Patel, an associate of Trump, has been granted 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 move signals the Department of Justice (DOJ) is building a criminal case against Trump.
Norman Eisen, attorney and Brookings Institution fellow, said during an appearance on CNN’s OutFront that Patel entered the reported deal to avoid being incriminated as the DOJ continues investigating whether Trump illegally took government documents from the White House to his South Florida home at the end of his presidency.
Kash Patel, former chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, speaks during a campaign rally at Minden-Tahoe Airport on October 8, 2022, in Minden, Nevada. Patel has reportedly agreed to testify against former President Donald Trump in exchange for immunity.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
“I think here it also signifies grave criminal peril for Donald Trump,” said Eisen. “Because it’s pretty unusual to give 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 chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense during the last days of the Trump administration, reacted with rage to being named in the document, echoing claims the probe is politically motivated.
The affidavit references Patel’s claim that he saw Trump had declassified any classified documents carted off from his home. Patel last month refused to answer prosecutor’s questions about whether Trump improperly handled government documents and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against incriminating himself before a grand jury, reports the Times.
Both The Wall Street Journal and The Guardian also reported that Patel had agreed to testify after prosecutors granted him immunity.
But Stanley Woodward, who is representing Patel, told Newsweek in an email that “We categorically deny that any deal has been reached or that such a deal is desired. We otherwise decline to comment.”
Renato Mariotti, legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, said in a Twitter thread that the DOJ presumably struck the reported immunity deal with Patel to goad him into testifying under oath that his statements about Trump declassifying the documents were false.
THREAD: What can we learn from reports that former Trump aide Kash Patel is set to testify before a federal grand jury?
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 2, 2022
Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, has previously claimed to have declassified the documents. Patel’s testimony could undermine a potential defense by the former president, said Mariotti.
“This is a very common practice by federal prosecutors,” said Mariotti. “Wrongdoers often have associates come up with implausible defenses, and forcing those witnesses to testify usually gets them to admit the truth.”
Attorney and commentator Tristan Snell said in a tweet that the reported deal with Patel means “Trump’s firewall on the documents case is starting to collapse.”
“Patel testifying will prompt 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.