Barbara McQuade writes: The report by the New York Times that Michael Flynn has withdrawn from a joint defense agreement with President Donald Trump might indicate that he is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. If so, this could be a significant turning point in the investigation.
First, what is a joint defense agreement? A joint defense agreement is a pact among attorneys for multiple targets or subjects in a criminal case in which they agree to share information. The agreement may be written or unwritten. Any joint defense agreement will be defined by its explicit terms, but generally, under such an agreement, attorneys have a duty to keep the confidences of all of the clients covered by the agreement. The attorneys also have a duty to avoid conflicts of interest as to any of the clients. The attorneys can compare notes, allocate work efficiently by dividing tasks and avoiding duplication, and develop a unified strategy.
The main advantage of joint defense agreements is that the information that they share is protected by a form of the attorney-client privilege, known by some courts as a joint interest privilege. These agreements can help targets or subjects sidestep the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma,” in which they must decide in a vacuum whether to help each other by remaining silent or betray each other by cooperating with authorities. When subjects or targets form a unified defense strategy, it is more difficult for prosecutors to “flip” targets, and use them as cooperators against their co-conspirators. [Continue reading…]