WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election assigned White House counsel under then-President Donald Trump and his first deputy, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Assignments to Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin suggest an intensification of the Justice Department’s investigation into the events surrounding the murderous uprising of January 6 at the United States Capitol, when Trump loyalists stormed the building in the hope of preventing the certification of election results. They also suggest that prosecutors are considering close Trump advisers as potentially vital witnesses.
Cipollone was the White House’s top lawyer in the final days of the Trump administration and was part of the legal team that defended the Republican president in his first impeachment trial in the House in 2020. But Cipollone vigorously resisted attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the presidential election Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, saying he disagreed there was enough fraud to have affected the outcome of the race.
The grand jury subpoenas were confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the case who insisted on anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Cipollone, Philbin and an attorney representing them did not return messages seeking comment.
What will happen next is unclear, although there may be negotiations over the scope of the grand jury testimony given that Cipollone and Philbin were White House attorneys and were privy to numerous private conversations with President. Executive privilege generally protects a president’s ability to obtain candid advice from advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure, although there are limits.
Federal prosecutors have been particularly focused on a plan by Trump allies to raise fake voters in key battleground states won by Biden as a way to overturn the vote, issuing subpoenas in recent weeks to several state Republican party chairmen.
Other subpoena recipients include Marc Short, who was former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff and who testified before the grand jury.
The Justice Department’s investigation into the January 6, 2021, uprising and efforts to nullify the election took place alongside a separate investigation by a House committee, which held several public hearingsincluding prime time.
Cipollone was interviewed privately by this panel last month and declined to discuss his conversations with Trump, citing executive privilege.
But parts of Cipollone’s private interview figured prominently during recent January 6 panel hearings, including video clips of him discussing a heated December 2020 meeting at the White House in which Trump aides and outside advisers discussed a proposed executive order calling for the seizure of voting machines.
“For the federal government to seize the voting machines? This is a terrible idea for the country. That’s not how we do things in the United States,” Cipollone testified, adding, “I don’t understand why we even have to tell you why this is a bad idea for the country.