As the midterm campaigns draw to a close, so too may an informal détente between Donald Trump and federal prosecutors since the search of Mar-a-Lago in August. While both sides fight in court, the Justice Department has probably refrained from taking major steps in the key investigations into his possession of classified documents and the attack on the U.S. Capitol in order to avoid influencing the elections.
During this relative down period, however, the department has reportedly been fighting an opaque and largely secret legal battle in the January 6 investigation that could constitute its most significant development to date. It could open a floodgate of damaging information about Trump or provide the department with crucial clarity about his conduct with respect to the riot and the effort to overturn the election results beyond what the public has learned so far. Like the search at Mar-a-Lago, this reflects an apparent change in posture at the Justice Department in recent months under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who chose not to focus on Trump’s potential criminal misconduct when he took office last year despite ample reason to do so.
And thus far, the Justice Department appears to be winning.
In recent weeks, according to a variety of news reports, prosecutors successfully compelled grand-jury testimony in Washington, D.C., from two key witnesses over the objections of Trump — Greg Jacob, a onetime lawyer for former vice-president Mike Pence who blamed the shoddy legal arguments advanced by Trump lawyer John Eastman for the outrageous violence at the Capitol, and Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff. The proceedings are under seal for the moment, but they are being handled at the district-court level by Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who has so far rejected Trump’s legal challenges. In at least Short’s case, Trump’s lawyers reportedly sought an expedited appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rebuffed them. The Justice Department is now reportedly seeking a similar ruling from Howell that would force testimony — again over Trump’s objections — from former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin. [Continue reading…]