EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s secret court fights to keep grand jury from getting information from his inner circle


Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are fighting a secret court battle to prevent a federal grand jury from gathering information from an expanding circle of Trump’s closest aides about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, people familiar with the matter told CNN.

The serious legal dispute — which included the appearance of three attorneys representing Trump in a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C. on Thursday afternoon — is the former president’s toughest step to assert executive and attorney-client privileges in order to prevent him. Some witnesses from sharing information on criminal investigation events surrounding January 6, 2021.

The fight in court over the franchise, which was previously unreported and sealed, is a turning point in Trump’s legal woes after the presidency.

How the dispute is resolved could determine whether attorneys general can tear down the firewall Trump has tried to keep in place in his West Wing conversations and with the lawyers he spoke with as he sought to nullify the 2020 election and worked to help him hold on to the presidency.

The dispute was exposed when former White House counsel and attorney Eric Hirschman received a grand jury subpoena for testimony, people briefed on the matter said.

Former senior Trump White House officials, including former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Vice President Patrick Philbin, have appeared before the grand jury in recent weeks, after negotiating specific topics they were refusing to answer a question about, due to Trump’s claims of privilege.

Hirschman himself is not in court against the subpoena. Instead, Trump’s lawyers are asking the judge to acknowledge the former president’s privilege claims and the right to confidentiality about his dealings. Hirschman’s grand jury testimony has been postponed.

It is still unknown whether prosecutors want to use the information in potential cases against Trump or others.

Trump’s lawyers expected the Justice Department to eventually seek a judge’s order to compel White House witnesses to obtain additional testimony, CNN previously reported.

The Ministry of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

Under grand jury secrecy rules, the legal dispute is reserved, with no public documentation to show the state of play.

CNN previously reported that the Department of Justice has been preparing a legal challenge along these lines for months.

In addition to Cipollone and Philbin, former Vice Presidential assistants Greg Jacob and Mark Short appeared before a grand jury in D.C. court and declined to answer some questions due to Trump’s allegations of executive privilege, CNN previously reported.

On Thursday afternoon, Evan Corcoran, Tim Parlator and John Rowley, who are representing Trump in the January 6 investigation, left the courtroom with a legal clerk.

Parlator told reporters that he was there “representing a customer” but did not provide further details. Other lawyers declined to comment.

People familiar with the matter said Trump’s legal team’s push to assert the franchise widely has been a bone of contention among his attorneys over legal strategy.

Hirschman received a grand jury subpoena to testify and documents relating to January 6 weeks ago. But people familiar with the matter said he was disturbed ahead of his trial by what he saw as vague directions from Trump’s lawyers not to share the information.

Hirschman pushed Trump’s lawyer to provide him with more detailed instructions on what subjects the franchise should be confirmed, according to emails reviewed by CNN and first reported by the New York Times.

A guidance letter from President Trump without a court order would not be sufficient. “I do not understand your statement that the Chief Justice will decide the case,” Hirschman wrote. He then raised concerns that the Ministry of Justice would seek to compel him to testify if he refused to testify on certain questions.

Hirschman previously testified before the House committee about what he saw at the White House on January 6.

The outspoken attorney has expressed concerns that the Trump team’s approach could put him at risk of grand jury contempt, according to people familiar with the matter. He backed down when Trump’s lawyers sent him a letter instructing that he cite executive privileges or an attorney assigned to a grand jury.

Former Trump aides have expressed similar frustration at the ambiguity of the Trump privilege claim, people familiar with the matter told CNN.

Lawyer-client privilege claims can be overcome for a number of reasons, including if any information is shared outside the attorney-client pipeline and if the communication relates to potential error. In the case of January 6, a California federal judge already found that email exchanges to and from John Eastman, Trump’s election attorney, would not be covered by this confidentiality, as he submitted the records to House investigators and allowed the Department of Justice to access those exchanges other similar.

Executive privilege is a tougher pursuit of detectives, although it’s not impossible to beat. The Department of Justice gained access to the Nixon and Watergate tapes for a federal grand jury in the 1970s due to a Supreme Court ruling that a criminal investigation needed the materials. But the courts haven’t determined exactly where the lines will be drawn in this investigation, or which a former president might try to keep secret advice he received while leading the country.

The dispute is separate from protecting privileges that Trump attempted to claim in a separate investigation into the handling of federal records and national security information after his presidency. That investigation prompted the FBI to seize classified documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and a judge now serving as special master is working on more than 10,000 unclassified records to determine whether Trump can deny them access to investigators.

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