A federal judge has ruled that a number of former officials from President Donald J. Trump’s administration — including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows — cannot invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying to a grand jury investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The recent ruling by Judge Beryl A. Howell paves the way for the former White House officials to answer questions from federal prosecutors, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Judge Howell ruled on the matter in a closed-door proceeding in her role as chief judge of the Federal District Court in Washington, a job in which she oversaw the grand juries taking testimony in the Justice Department’s investigations into Mr. Trump. Judge Howell’s term as chief judge ended last week.
The existence of the sealed ruling was first reported by ABC News.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had tried to rebuff the grand jury subpoenas issued to more than a half-dozen former administration officials in connection with the former president’s efforts to remain in office after his defeat at the polls. The lawyers argued that Mr. Trump’s interactions with the officials would be covered by executive privilege.
Prosecutors are likely to be especially eager to hear from Mr. Meadows, who refused to be interviewed by the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Mr. Meadows was a central player in various efforts to help Mr. Trump reverse the election outcome in a number of contested states.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
Before he stopped cooperating with the committee, Mr. Meadows provided House investigators with thousands of text messages that gave them a road map of events and people to interview. He has also appeared before a fact-finding grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., investigating the efforts to overturn the election, according to the grand jury’s forewoman, who described him as not very forthcoming.
Mr. Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, did not respond to a phone call on Friday seeking comment.
Other officials whose grand jury testimony Judge Howell compelled in her order vary in significance to the investigation, and in seniority. They include John McEntee, who served as Mr. Trump’s personnel chief and personal aide; Nick Luna, another personal aide; Robert C. O’Brien, who was national security adviser; Dan Scavino, who was a deputy chief of staff and social media director in the White House; John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence; Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s speechwriter and adviser; and Ken Cuccinelli, who served as acting deputy secretary of homeland security.
Word of the ruling came as the Justice Department pressed ahead in its parallel investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office and whether he obstructed the government’s efforts to reclaim them. The twin federal investigations are being led by Jack Smith, the special counsel who was appointed after Mr. Trump announced his latest candidacy in November.
In the documents case, one of the central witnesses, M. Evan Corcoran, a lawyer who represented Mr. Trump in the inquiry, appeared before a grand jury on Friday 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, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In making her ruling last week to force Mr. Corcoran to testify, Judge Howell upheld the government’s request to invoke the crime-fraud exception, a provision of the law that allows prosecutors to work around attorney-client privilege if they have reason to believe that legal advice or services were used to further a crime. The judge also said that Mr. Corcoran would have to turn over some documents related to his representation of Mr. Trump.
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Judge Howell’s order exposed the continuing legal peril confronting Mr. Trump, as it noted that Mr. Smith’s team had made “a prima facie showing that the former president committed criminal violations,” according to people familiar with the decision.
Her order made clear that prosecutors have questions not just about what Mr. Trump told Mr. Corcoran as he prepared to respond to a grand jury subpoena seeking any remaining classified material in Mr. Trump’s possession, but who else may have influenced what Mr. Corcoran told Justice Department officials, according to people familiar with the ruling.
In December, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, Timothy Parlatore, also appeared in front of the grand jury, to answer questions about a subpoena prosecutors had issued in May seeking all classified material in the possession of the custodian of records for Mr. Trump’s presidential office.
Mr. Parlatore said on Friday that he had gone in front of the grand jury because at that point Mr. Trump’s office no longer had a custodian of records. He also said that he had been involved in several efforts to comply with the subpoena in the weeks and months after the F.B.I., acting on a search warrant in August, hauled away hundreds of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.
Among the things that Mr. Parlatore said he discussed with the grand jury were additional searches he oversaw at the end of last year, of other properties belonging to Mr. Trump, including Trump Tower in New York; Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.; and a storage site in West Palm Beach, Fla.
During the search of the storage site, investigators found at least two more documents with classified markings.
During his grand jury testimony, Mr. Parlatore said he also mentioned an empty folder bearing the words “classified evening summary” that had remained on Mr. Trump’s bedroom night stand even after the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago.
He said prosecutors immediately drew up a subpoena for the folder, demanding its return.
“The D.O.J. is continuously stepping far outside the standard norms in attempting to destroy the long-accepted, long-held, constitutionally based standards of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege,” a Trump spokesman said in a statement, saying the cases are political and that “there is no factual or legal basis or substance to any case against President Trump.”
Prosecutors in Mr. Smith’s office have also been pressing forward with seeking grand jury testimony in a separate investigation into Mr. Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left office.
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