Trump asks judge to block Pence’s testimony to grand jury
March 4, 2023 Updated Sat., March 4, 2023 at 9:17 p.m.
Former President Donald Trump has filed a motion asking a federal judge to prevent his former vice president, Mike Pence, from testifying to a grand jury about specific issues that Trump is claiming are protected by executive privilege, a person briefed on the matter said.
The filing is unsurprising – Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly sought to assert executive privilege over former aides as a means of blocking testimony – but it underscores how much the Justice Department’s attempts to get Pence to testify in the investigation into Trump’s efforts to cling to power may be drawn out.
The sealed filing was made Friday, according to the person briefed on the matter. Its existence was reported earlier by CNN. A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Pence was recently subpoenaed for grand jury testimony after negotiations between his team and the Justice Department over his appearance came to an impasse, people briefed on the matter said. Pence is a key potential witness in the investigation, as the person Trump pressured repeatedly to thwart the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory by Congress.
Trump took his pressure campaign public several times, including on Jan. 6, 2021, the day of the congressional session, which Pence had a ceremonial role in overseeing. At a rally near the White House before the session began, Trump publicly pressured Pence and then directed his supporters to go to the Capitol in protest.
The pro-Trump mob ultimately overran the Capitol building, with some chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”
The New York Times reported earlier that the Justice Department had filed what amounted to a preemptive motion to say executive privilege did not apply, seeking to compel Pence’s testimony in the matter. Before that motion was filed, Trump’s lawyers had sent a letter to prosecutors saying they were not going to waive executive privilege with regard to Pence’s testimony.
Pence has said he will try to fight the subpoena, but has indicated it will be under the “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution, which applies to legislators. His argument is under the auspices of his role as president of the Senate.
The investigation is being led by special counsel Jack Smith, whose aggressive moves to advance the case have contrasted with the Justice Department’s handling of the Jan. 6-related investigation previously.
But it is unclear how quickly it will be settled. The matter could take months, at a time when Trump is a presidential candidate for the Republican nomination and Pence is considering a campaign of his own.
Trump’s lawyers also sought to block testimony by two of Pence’s top aides: his former chief counsel, Greg Jacob, and his former chief of staff, Marc Short.
The privilege disputes have been dealt with by the chief federal judge in Washington, Judge Beryl Howell, who is stepping down this month and will be replaced by a new chief judge.
In the cases of Jacob and Short, she ruled that they had to testify on issues that Trump had sought to shield through executive privilege, people briefed on the matter said at the time.
Grand jury subpoenas in the Jan. 6 case were also recently issued to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. It remains unclear whether Trump will seek to assert executive privilege there.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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