Exclusive: Trump’s secret court battle to prevent grand jury from receiving information from his inner circle



CNN

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are in secret court to block a federal grand jury from gathering information about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

The high-stakes legal challenge — which included an appearance Thursday afternoon by three lawyers representing Trump in federal court in Washington, DC — is the former president’s most aggressive move to impose executive and attorney-client privilege. Some witnesses to share information in criminal investigation events around January 6, 2021.

The previously undisclosed and under-seal court battle against the privilege is a turning point for Trump’s post-presidency legal woes.

How the fight is resolved may determine whether prosecutors can throw out the suzerainty that Trump tried to hold on to in the West Wing and conversations with lawyers he spoke about when he sought to overturn the 2020 election and who worked to help hold the president down. .

The dispute comes after former Trump White House adviser and lawyer Eric Herschmann received a grand jury subpoena to testify, officials said.

Other former Trump White House officials, including former White House adviser Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin, appeared before the grand jury in recent weeks after negotiating specifics about Trump’s claims of privilege that they would not answer questions about.

Herschmann himself is not fighting the subpoena in court. Instead, Trump’s lawyers are asking a judge to recognize the former president’s claims of privilege and his right to confidentiality about his dealings. Herschmann’s grand jury testimony has been postponed.

It is not yet known whether prosecutors intend to use the information for possible cases against Trump or others.

Trump’s lawyers say the Justice Department will eventually seek a judge’s order to compel additional testimony from White House witnesses, CNN reports.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Under grand jury secrecy rules, the legal case is sealed, and there are no public documents to show the situation.

The Justice Department has been pursuing the legal challenge for months, CNN previously reported.

In addition to Cipollone and Philbin, former Vice Presidents Greg Jacob and Marc Short have appeared before a DC grand jury and sought to answer questions about Trump’s executive privilege claims, CNN previously reported.

On Thursday afternoon, Evan Corcoran, Tim Parlatore and John Rowley, who are working together representing Trump in the January 6 investigation, left the courtroom accompanied by a clerk.

Parlator told reporters he was “representing a client” but would not provide further details. The other lawyers did not want to comment.

The push by Trump’s legal team to assert the privilege broadly has been fueled by disagreements among his lawyers over legal strategy, people briefed on the matter said.

Herschmann received a grand jury subpoena for testimony and documents about January 6 weeks ago. But ahead of his court appearance he was angered by what he saw as vague instructions from Trump lawyers not to share information, people briefed on the matter said.

Herschmann pushed Trump’s attorneys to provide more detailed instructions on the subject of privilege, according to emails reviewed by CNN and first reported by The New York Times.

“A letter of directive from President Trump without a court order would not be sufficient. I do not understand your statement that the chief justice will decide the case,” Herschmann wrote. He then expressed concern that the DOJ would seek to compel his testimony if he refused to testify to certain questions.

Herschmann testified before a House committee about what he saw at the White House around January 6.

The hawkish lawyer expressed concern that the Trump team’s approach could put him at risk of contempt of the grand jury, according to people briefed on the matter. It backtracked when Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to the grand jury with instructions citing executive or attorney-client privilege.

Other former Trump aides have expressed similar frustration at the vagueness of the Trump privilege claim, people briefed on the matter told CNN.

Claims of attorney-client privilege can be overcome for a variety of reasons, including if information is shared outside the attorney-client pipeline and potential miscommunications. In a January 6 ruling, a federal judge in California has already found that Trump’s campaign lawyer John Eastman would not be covered by that confidentiality for exchanging email exchanges, handing over the records to House investigators and the Justice Department. other similar exchanges.

Executive privilege is a tougher quest 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 the Supreme Court ruled that the materials were necessary for a criminal investigation. But the courts haven’t determined exactly where the lines would be drawn in this investigation, or a former president who will try to keep the secret advice he gave while leading the country.

The dispute is separate from the privilege protections that Trump has sought to claim in a separate investigation into his handling of federal records and national security information after his presidency. That investigation prompted the FBI to seize classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and a judge serving as special master is now reviewing more than 10,000 unclassified records to determine whether Trump can block them from investigators.