Attorneys for former president Donald Trump have asked a federal appeals court to toss a District of Columbia judge’s order forcing his last White House chief of staff and other former White House aides to give evidence before a grand jury investigating his attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Mr Trump’s legal team on Wednesday asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn District Judge Beryl Howell’s rejection of the ex-president’s claim of executive privilege over testimony from ex-top aide Mark Meadows and other former senior White House officials, including his former deputy chief of staff Daniel Scavino, ex-senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, and other former national security officials.
Judge Howell, who until recently served as the chief judge for the District of Columbia’s federal district court, shot down Mr Trump’s effort to quash subpoenas for his ex-aides’ testimony issued at the request of Jack Smith, the Department of Justice special counsel who is overseeing probes into the ex-president’s actions leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, his alleged unlawful removal and retention of national defence information, and his alleged obstruction of the probe into his alleged unlawful retention of national defence information.
Mr Trump had claimed his ex-aides could not be compelled to give evidence because of executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields communications between and among a president and his advisers.
But in a sealed ruling, the judge rejected his privilege claims, citing a string of precedents dating back to the Watergate era which state that executive privilege must give way to the need for prosecutors to obtain information for criminal investigations.
Mr Trump’s efforts have also been thwarted in part by President Joe Biden’s refusal to assert executive privilege in matters relating to the January 6 attack, citing the extraordinary circumstances of the worst attack on the Capitol since Major General Robert Ross ordered British troops to burn it in 1814.
The 15 March ruling from Judge Howell was a notable win for Mr Smith, as it will — if allowed to remain in force — compel Mr Trump’s inner circle to tell grand jurors about their interactions with the twice-impeached former president during the period he was pushing to remain in office for a second term despite having lost the 2020 election to Mr Biden.
Thus far, Mr Trump and his allies have had precious little success in persuading courts not to recognise any of his privilege claims as he’s sought to hamper Mr Smith’s investigative efforts.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a different ruling from Judge Howell which forced one of Mr Trump’s lawyers, Evan Corcoran, to give evidence about Mr Trump’s actions in relation to a separate grand jury investigation into his alleged unlawful retention of classified documents at his Palm Beach, Florida residence.
The court found that Judge Howell had properly applied an exception to attorney-client privilege which can be invoked when it is found that legal advice was sought to further commission of a crime.