A recent ruling by Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington has determined that former officials of the Trump administration can no longer invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying to a grand jury that is investigating Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The decision permits federal prosecutors to question more than a half-dozen former White House officials, including Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff. Prosecutors may be particularly interested in Meadows, who refused to be interviewed by the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and who played a central role in Trump’s attempts to reverse the election outcome in contested states.
The decision, which came in a closed-door proceeding, does not signify the officials’ guilt but paves the way for them to be questioned by federal prosecutors. The ruling’s existence was first reported by ABC News. Trump’s lawyers had tried to block the grand jury subpoenas, arguing that Trump’s interactions with the officials would be protected by executive privilege. Judge Howell has also compelled the grand jury testimony of other former officials who served in various roles in the Trump administration, including personnel chief John McEntee, personal aides Nick Luna and John McEntee, and former deputy secretary of homeland security Ken Cuccinelli.
According to people briefed on the matter, the Justice Department is also investigating Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office and whether he obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them. The investigation is led by Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed after Trump announced his latest candidacy in November. M. Evan Corcoran, a lawyer who represented Mr. Trump in the inquiry, has appeared before a grand jury on this matter after both Judge Howell and a federal appeals court in Washington rejected his attempts to avoid answering questions by asserting attorney-client privilege on behalf of Mr. Trump. The judge also ordered Mr. Corcoran to turn over some documents related to his representation of Mr. Trump.
In this matter, Judge Howell upheld the government’s request to invoke the crime-fraud exception, which allows prosecutors to bypass attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe that legal advice or services were used to further a crime. The judge’s order also made clear that prosecutors have questions about who else may have influenced what Mr. Corcoran told Justice Department officials.
The grand jury subpoenas were issued in connection with the former president’s efforts to remain in office after his defeat at the polls. Although the decision does not directly implicate Trump, it does show that the investigation into his activities is ongoing. The ruling is yet another reminder of the legal troubles the former president is facing, including investigations into his handling of classified materials and allegations that he obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them.