Justice Department prosecutors are preparing for what is sure to be a heated court battle to force former White House officials to testify in their criminal investigation into Donald Trump’s actions and communications around Jan. 6th.
It’s a sign that the DOJ is closing in on the ex-President, and his attempts to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
The issue at hand is executive privilege, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has made it clear that he wants to “get this right.” Unambiguous in a recent interview with NBC News, Garland indicated that Trump is not above the law, nor out of the Justice Department’s reach.”
Though the Biden administration waived privilege claims surrounding Jan. 6th, if history and precedent matter, the move may not be needed.
In 1974, then-President Richard Nixon claimed executive privilege to prevent the release of the Watergate tapes, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Former White House counsel Neil Eggleston thinks the Court’s ruling in Nixon’s case is a “test” of sorts, “Where the need for presidential secrecy is often not enough to overcome the needs of a federal grand jury investigation,” said CNN.
A federal appeals court also ruled against claims of privilege multiple times during the Clinton administration.
The Department of Justice appears to have a shot at getting its way in court. Eggleston, who worked on behalf of the White House arguing privilege issues in the 1990s, said “I think it would be effortless for the Department of Justice to litigate and win this.”
Even with executive privilege in place, prosecutors have still made significant progress with witnesses who have intimate knowledge of Trump’s actions on the day of the insurrection.
This includes testimony from then-Vice President Mike Pence’s former attorney Greg Jacob and his former chief of staff Marc Short. Both were present when former Trump attorney – and architect of the plot to pressure Pence – John Eastman, tried to get the Vice President to agree to violate the Electoral Count Act and testified to the illegal campaign.
While avoiding answering direct questions related to Trump, Jacob and Short gave testimony for hours.
In addition to his criminal problems, the ex-President is facing civil liability. In February, District Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Trump could be held financially liable for his pre-riot speech at the Ellipse. His attorneys filed (again) for immunity on Wednesday on Trump’s behalf.
Original reporting by Even Perez and Katelyn Polantz at CNN.
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