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Igor Derysh

Judge could release secret Trump docs

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a 'Save America' rally on October 22, 2022 in Robstown, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A federal judge is mulling whether to unseal secret court documents detailing former President Donald Trump's attempts to block his former aides from testifying to a grand jury investigating his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, according to Politico.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for D.C. on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to respond to requests by Politico and the New York Times to unseal documents from secret court proceedings surrounding Trump's attempt to use executive and attorney-client privilege claims to prevent former aides from testifying. CNN previously reported that the DOJ had successfully secured testimony from Marc Short and Greg Jacob, who served as top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence despite Trump's attempts to prevent them from disclosing information to the grand jury.

Short, who served as Pence's chief of staff, testified before a grand jury last Thursday just hours after a federal appeals court rejected Trump's request to postpone the appearance while he appeals, according to Politico. The court turned down the request after a "rushed series of filings," according to the report, and Short testified the next day. Trump's team could have appealed the matter further to the Supreme Court but has not yet done so.

The ruling came amid a four-month legal battle that began in June over grand jury subpoenas issued in the Jan. 6 probe but "accelerated rapidly" on September 28, when Howell ruled against Trump in a sealed ruling related to two grand jury subpoenas, according to the report. The rulings were sealed because they are related to grand jury matters but the timing suggests they were related to the subpoenas issued to Short and Jacob, who served as Pence's chief counsel.

The ruling was one of a series of court decisions rejecting Trump's attempts to derail investigations. The same day that Short testified, the Supreme Court rejected Trump's bid to intervene in the federal criminal probe into secret national security documents found at Mar-a-Lago. Other court rulings have cleared the way for prosecutors to secure testimony and documents related to Jan. 6, his efforts to overturn the election and his business dealings.

Short and Jacob previously appeared before a grand jury but did not answer questions related to Trump's privilege claims. CNN reported that federal prosecutors are now similarly asking the judge to force former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin to testify despite Trump's executive and attorney-client privilege claims. The filings related to Trump's appeal are sealed so Trump could still ask the court to issue a formal ruling on whether he can block former aides from testifying. He could also take the issue to the Supreme Court.

Short, Jacob, Cipollone and Philbin have all testified before the House Jan. 6 committee as well, though they declined to answer questions that could be covered by Trump's privilege claims. The rulings related to the Short and Jacob subpoenas suggest that the court may similarly order Cipollone and Philbin to answer questions before the grand jury. The ruling could also affect privilege claims related to the testimony of former White House officials Mark Meadows, Eric Herschmann, Dan Scavino and Stephen Miller along with campaign adviser Boris Ephsteyn.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman predicted that the "biggest prize" for the DOJ who has "dodged testimony based on executive privilege" claims is Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff. Meadows was centrally involved in Trump's post-election efforts and partially cooperated with the House Jan. 6 probe but has refused to turn over additional documents or sit for an interview.

A judge on Wednesday ordered Meadows to testify before a different grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia that is investigating Trump's efforts to overturn his election in the state.

"It's taken a while to get here, but increasingly, courts are ordering Trump's inner circle to testify before grand juries," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

In the Mar-a-Lago probe, prosecutors are reportedly considering offering Trump aides immunity to force their testimony in the case. Mary McCord, a former acting assistant attorney general and Georgetown Law professor, predicted that a similar scenario could play out in Georgia.

"There's a potential there for a conspiracy and there's a potential that some of this evidence would lead to that," McCord told MSNBC, predicting that Meadows was likely to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. "Then we have the same issue there of a prosecutor in Georgia having to face issues like, 'do I offer immunity or do I rely on other evidence I can get elsewhere because I don't want to relinquish the opportunity to potentially prosecute Mark Meadows.'"

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