Former President Donald TrumpHis lawyers are waging a secret court battle to get a federal grand jury to gather information from a growing circle of close Trump aides about efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people briefed on the matter told CNN. can be prevented.
The high-stakes legal dispute — which included the appearance of three lawyers representing Trump at a Washington, D.C., federal courthouse Thursday afternoon — is all about the former president’s move to curb executive and attorney-client privilege. It is an aggressive step. Some witnesses share information in nearby criminal investigation cases January 6, 2021.
The court battle over the privilege, which was previously unreported and remains under seal, is a turning point in Trump’s post-presidency legal woes.
How the fight is resolved may determine whether prosecutors can tear down the firewall Trump has tried to maintain over his conversations in the West Wing and with attorneys he spoke with when He tried to overturn the 2020 election and worked to help keep him in the presidency. .
The controversy came to light when Trump’s former White House adviser and lawyer Eric Hirschman A Grand Jury Subpoena Calling for testimony, people said.
Other former senior Trump White House officials, including former White House counsel Pete Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin, have appeared before a grand jury in recent weeks, after discussing specific topics they believe are the cause of Trump’s privilege claims. will refuse to answer the question.
Hershman himself is not fighting the court appearance. Instead, Trump’s lawyers are asking a judge to recognize the former president’s privilege claims and his right to privacy about his affairs. Herschmann’s grand jury testimony has been postponed.
It is still unknown whether prosecutors want to use the information for possible cases against Trump or others.
Trump’s lawyers expect the Justice Department to eventually seek a judge’s order to compel additional testimony from White House witnesses, CNN previously reported.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Under grand jury confidentiality rules, the legal dispute remains under seal, with no public documents revealing the state of play.
CNN previously reported that the Justice Department has been bracing for a legal challenge along these lines for months.
In addition to Cipollone and Philbin, former vice presidential aides Greg Jacobs and Mark Short appeared before a grand jury at a D.C. courthouse and declined to answer some questions because of Trump’s claims of executive privilege, CNN previously reported. what was
On Thursday afternoon, Evan Corcoran, Tim Parlatore and John Rowley, who are working together to represent Trump in the Jan. 6 investigation, walked out of court accompanied by a law clerk.
Parletor told reporters he was “representing a client” there but would not provide further details. Other lawyers declined to comment.
Trump’s legal team’s broad privilege claim has been the subject of disagreements over legal strategy among his lawyers, people briefed on the matter said.
Hirschman received a grand jury subpoena six weeks ago for testimony and documents dating back to January. But people briefed on the matter said Trump’s lawyers were angered by vague guidance not to share information before his court date.
Hirschman urged Trump’s lawyers to provide him with more detailed instructions on which topics to claim privilege, according to emails reviewed by CNN and previously reported. The New York Times.
“A letter of instruction from President Trump without a court order would not be sufficient. I do not understand your statement that the Chief Justice will decide this issue,” Hershman wrote. He then expressed concerns about the DOJ trying to compel his testimony if he refused to testify to certain questions.
Hirshman previously testified to a House committee about what he saw at the White House around January 6.
The lawyer apparently raised concerns that the Trump team’s approach put him at risk of potentially being in contempt of the grand jury, according to people briefed on the matter. He backed down after Trump’s lawyers sent him a letter with instructions that he cite executive or attorney-client privilege to the grand jury.
Other former Trump aides have expressed similar frustration at the vagueness of Trump’s privilege claim, people briefed on the matter told CNN.
Claims of attorney-client privilege may be overcome for a number of reasons, including if information is shared outside the attorney-client pipeline and if the communication relates to potential wrongdoing. In the January 6 situation, a federal judge in California has already discovered the email exchange. John EastmanTrump’s election attorneys would not cover the secrecy, which would provide records to House investigators and allow the Justice Department access to those and other similar exchanges.
Executive privilege is a difficult pursuit for investigators, though not impossible to overcome. The Justice Department obtained access to Nixon’s Watergate tapes for a federal grand jury in the 1970s because Supreme Court Ordered that the material is required for criminal investigation. But the courts haven’t said exactly where the lines will be drawn in that investigation, or for a former president who might try to keep secret advice he gave while leading the country.
The controversy is separate from the privilege concerns Trump has tried to assert in separate investigations into his handling of federal records and national security information since his presidency. The investigation prompted the FBI to seize classified documents. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Resortand acting as a judge Special Master It is now working through more than 10,000 unclassified records to determine whether Trump can withhold them from investigators.