BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A judge has rejected arguments that federal agents coerced a Louisiana private investigator into confessing that he tried to illegally obtain Donald Trump's tax returns before last year's presidential election.
In a ruling filed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Brady refused to suppress statements that Jordan Hamlett allegedly made to investigators from the FBI and another federal agency before his arrest on a charge he misused a Social Security number.
Hamlett's attorney accused agents of tricking him into appearing at a Baton Rouge hotel for an interrogation.
The judge, however, said Hamlett voluntarily spoke to the agents while he was free to leave.
"The officers were courteous, did not use any physical restraints, and did not make any threats," Brady wrote. "Additionally, (Hamlett) almost immediately volunteered that he had committed the crime before being accused of anything."
Prosecutors claim Hamlett, 31, unsuccessfully tried to obtain Trump's tax returns using a U.S. Department of Education website, which allowed users applying for financial aid to locate their tax records and transfer the information to the education website.
An agent who questioned Hamlett before his arrest testified in March that investigators feared it could affect the outcome of the election if somebody had exploited the government database to obtain Trump's tax returns and either release or sell the records.
On Oct. 27, investigators used an undercover agent posing as a potential client to lure Hamlett to the hotel, where they questioned him in hushed tones in a crowded lobby for hours. Hamlett immediately took credit for coming up with the idea before they accused him of anything, authorities said.
"He sounded somewhat, I would describe it as proud. I mean, he acknowledged that he thought of that idea, that it was him that had made the access to it," testified Special Agent Samuel Johnson of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, according to a transcript of the March hearing.
Hamlett's attorney, Michael Fiser, said in a recent court filing that agents mischaracterized Hamlett's interrogation "as a friendly Kumbaya campfire singalong."
"Hamlett was never given the opportunity to make an informed or intelligent choice whether to waive or invoke his rights," Fiser wrote.
Hamlett has pleaded not guilty to a felony charge punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. The judge hasn't set a trial date yet.