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Trump Lawyers Push to Limit Aides’ Testimony in Jan. 6 Inquiry


Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump are engaged in a behind-the-scenes legal struggle to limit the scope of a federal grand jury investigation into the role he played in searching for to overturn the 2020 election, in accordance with people aware of the matter.

The closed-door battle, unfolding in Federal District Court in Washington, has centered on how far Mr. Trump can go in asserting attorney-client and executive privilege as a way of keeping witnesses near him from answering potentially damaging questions of their appearances before the grand jury, the people said.

The difficulty is significant because it’s going to determine how much evidence prosecutors can get from an inner circle of a few of Mr. Trump’s most trusted former lawyers and advisers. The consequence will help to shape the contours of the knowledge that the Justice Department will have the option to collect, because it looks into Mr. Trump’s involvement within the chaotic events after the election that culminated within the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

That process continues whilst the Justice Department also pursues a separate criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of presidency documents that he took with him when he left office, including a whole bunch marked as classified.

A federal appeals court this week blocked a lower court’s order that had stalled a key portion of the documents investigation. And on Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that the intelligence agencies had resumed a risk assessment of the classified material seized within the search last month of Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s residence and personal club in Florida. The work involves assessing the potential national security risk that might result from disclosure of the documents, the office announced.

The court appearances by the lawyers within the battle over how expansively Mr. Trump would have the option to assert privilege within the Jan. 6 investigation, as first reported by CNN, are proceeding under seal, like all matters concerning grand juries. As a general rule, issues that touch on federal grand juries in Washington are overseen by the district’s chief judge, Beryl A. Howell.

The court fight comes as an increasing variety of high-ranking officials in Mr. Trump’s administration have received grand jury subpoenas as a part of the Justice Department’s inquiry into a big selection of efforts to overturn the election, including a plan to create fake slates of pro-Trump electors in key swing states that were won by Joseph R. Biden Jr.

This month, greater than 40 subpoenas were issued to a big group of former Trump aides — amongst them, Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s final chief of staff; Dan Scavino, his onetime deputy chief of staff for communications; and Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s top speechwriter and a senior policy adviser.

The wide-ranging subpoenas sought information on a number of subjects that included the fake elector plan, attempts to color the election as having been marred by fraud and the inner workings of Mr. Trump’s predominant postelection fund-raising vehicle, Save America PAC.

The recent flurry of subpoenas got here only days after Pat A. Cipollone, the chief lawyer in Mr. Trump’s White House, and his former deputy, Patrick Philbin, testified before the grand jury. In July, two top aides to former Vice President Mike Pence — Marc Short, Mr. Pence’s onetime chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, his former chief lawyer — also appeared in front of the grand jury.

While the legal wrangling in front of Judge Howell is supposed to be secret, three of Mr. Trump’s lawyers — M. Evan Corcoran, John Rowley and Timothy Parlatore — were seen on Thursday leaving the federal courthouse in Washington. Their appearance there was related, at the least partially, to discussions about whether Mr. Trump’s assertions of privilege could limit the testimony of Mr. Short and Mr. Jacob, in accordance with an individual aware of the matter.

Mr. Parlatore declined to comment. Neither Mr. Corcoran nor Mr. Rowley returned messages searching for comment.

Last week, The Latest York Times reported that Eric Herschmann, one other lawyer who had worked in Mr. Trump’s White House, spent weeks this summer attempting to get specific guidance from Mr. Corcoran, Mr. Rowley and Mr. Parlatore on the right way to handle questions that may raise privilege issues since he, too, had been summoned before the grand jury.

In emails reviewed by The Times, Mr. Herschmann complained that a letter from Mr. Trump directing him to say privilege in front of the grand jury — as other witnesses had — was not enough to permit him to avoid answering questions.

“I is not going to depend on your say-so that privileges apply here and be put in the midst of a privilege fight between D.O.J. and President Trump,” Mr. Herschmann, a former prosecutor, wrote in one in all the emails, referring to the Justice Department.

Mr. Herschmann repeatedly implored Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Rowley to go to court searching for an order from a judge “precluding me from answering questions based on privilege assertions by President Trump,” in accordance with the emails. They ignored his request for a lot of days, before ultimately filing a motion under seal on Sept. 1, just hours before Mr. Herschmann was set to testify, the emails showed. Mr. Herschmann’s grand jury appearance was postponed.

Attorney-client privilege will not be an ironclad protection for lawyers and could be swept aside in cases where crimes have been committed. In July, for example, a federal judge in California denied the attorney-client privilege claims of the lawyer John Eastman after finding that Mr. Eastman and Mr. Trump had likely conspired together to obstruct the certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6. Under the judge’s decision, Mr. Eastman was forced to present the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 a trove of his emails.

In a somewhat similar fashion, Mr. Trump asserted executive privilege over a batch of his White House records that the House committee wanted to look at as a part of its inquiry — despite the fact that Mr. Biden, as the present president, had waived executive privilege over the documents.

In January, after lower courts had weighed in, the Supreme Court effectively rejected Mr. Trump’s claims and allowed the committee to make use of records. But an opinion by Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh that accompanied the choice suggested that Mr. Trump must have some residual power to say executive privilege.

“A former president must have the option to successfully invoke the presidential communications privilege for communications that occurred during his presidency, even when the present president doesn’t support the privilege claim,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “Concluding otherwise would eviscerate the manager privilege for presidential communications.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.

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