Former Trump officials must testify in 2020 election probe, judge says

A federal judge has ruled that a number of former officials in President Donald J. Trump’s administration — including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows — cannot invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying before a grand jury investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election.

Judge Beryl A. Howell’s recent ruling paves the way for former White House officials to answer questions from federal prosecutors, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Judge Howell ruled on the matter in closed proceedings in her role as Chief Justice of the Federal District Court in Washington, a job in which she oversaw grand juries taking testimony in inquests from the Department of Justice on Mr. Trump. Justice Howell’s term as Chief Justice ended last week.

The existence of the sealed decision was first reported by ABC News.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had tried to fend off grand jury subpoenas issued to more than half a dozen former administration officials as part of the former president’s effort to stay in office after his death. defeat at the polls. Lawyers argued that Mr. Trump’s interactions with officials would be covered by executive privilege.

Prosecutors will likely be especially eager to hear from Mr. Meadows, who declined to be interviewed by the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Mr. Meadows has played a pivotal role in various efforts to help Mr. Trump reverse the election outcome in a number of contested states.

Before he ceased cooperating with the committee, Meadows provided House investigators with thousands of text messages giving them a roadmap of events and people to interview. He also appeared before an investigative grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, investigating efforts to nullify the election, according to the grand jury chairwoman, who described him as uncommunicative.

Mr Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, did not respond to a phone call on Friday seeking comment.

Other officials whose grand jury testimony was compelled by Judge Howell in his order vary in importance to the investigation and seniority. They include John McEntee, who served as chief of staff and personal aide to Mr. Trump; Nick Luna, another personal assistant; Robert C. O’Brien, who was a national security adviser; Dan Scavino, who was deputy chief of staff and director of social media at the White House; John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence; Stephen Miller, speechwriter and adviser to Mr. Trump; and Ken Cuccinelli, who served as Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.

News of the decision came as the Justice Department continued its parallel investigation into Mr Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left office and whether he obstructed government efforts to retrieve them. The twin federal investigations are being led by Jack Smith, the special counsel who was appointed after Mr Trump announced his latest candidacy in November.

In the documents case, one of the central witnesses, Mr. Evan Corcoran, an attorney who represented Mr. Trump in the investigation, appeared before a grand jury on Friday after Judge Howell and an appeals court in Washington rejected his attempts to avoid answering questions by asserting attorney-client privilege on Mr. Trump’s behalf, according to two people familiar with the matter.

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In making her decision last week to compel Mr. Corcoran to testify, Judge Howell upheld the government’s request to invoke the criminal fraud exception, a provision of the law that allows prosecutors to circumvent solicitor-client privilege if they have reason to believe that legal advice or services have been used to further a crime. The judge also said Mr. Corcoran should hand over certain documents related to his portrayal of Mr. Trump.

Judge Howell’s order revealed the continued legal peril Mr Trump faces, as she noted that Mr Smith’s team had made “prima facie evidence that the former president had committed criminal offences”, according to people familiar with the decision.

His order made it clear that prosecutors have questions not only about what Mr. Trump said to Mr. Corcoran as he prepared to respond to a grand jury subpoena requesting any classified material remaining in Mr. Trump, but who else could have influenced what Mr. Corcoran told Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the decision.

In December, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, Timothy Parlatore, also appeared before the grand jury, to answer questions about a subpoena that prosecutors issued in May to search for all classified documents in the possession of the custodian of records. of Mr. Trump’s presidential election. desk.

Mr. Parlatore said on Friday that he appeared before the grand jury because by then Mr. Trump’s office no longer had a custodian of records. He also said he was involved in several efforts to comply with the subpoena in the weeks and months after the FBI, acting on a search warrant in August, took away hundreds of classified documents from Mar- a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private. club and residence in Florida.

Among the things Mr. Parlatore said he discussed with the grand jury were additional searches he oversaw late last year, other properties owned by Mr. Trump, including the Trump Tower in New York; Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, NJ; and a storage site in West Palm Beach, Florida.

During the search of the storage site, investigators found at least two other documents bearing classified marks.

During his grand jury testimony, Mr. Parlatore said he also mentioned an empty folder bearing the words “classified evening summary” that had remained on the bedside table in Mr. Trump’s bedroom even after the FBI search. at Mar-a-Lago.

He said prosecutors immediately drafted a subpoena for the case, demanding its return.

“The DOJ is continually departing from standard standards in an attempt to destroy the long-accepted, constitutionally based constitutional standards of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege,” a Trump spokesperson said in a statement, claiming the cases were political. and that “there is no factual or legal basis or substance to a case against President Trump.”

Prosecutors in Mr. Smith’s office also pushed for grand jury testimony in a separate investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left office.


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