The Justice Department asked a federal judge to force former Vice President Mike Pence to testify to a grand jury investigating former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, in an attempt to cut short any attempt by Trump to use executive privilege to shield Pence from answering questions, reports the New York Times. The request — a pre-emptive motion to compel Pence’s testimony — came before the former vice president had even appeared in front of the grand jury, and before any privilege claims had been raised in court. The sealed motion in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is the latest step in a long-running behind-the-scenes struggle by DOJ and special counsel Jack Smith to cut through assertions of privilege that witnesses close to Trump have repeatedly raised in an effort to avoid answering questions.
The privilege disputes have been handled by Chief Federal Judge Beryl Howell. On Thursday, Howell rejected a request by New York Times and Politico reporters to unseal her rulings and associated filings about legal fights over material presented to the Jan. 6 grand jury, such as wrangling over whether Trump’s former aides could lawfully decline to answer questions based on executive privilege. People close to Pence say he plans to argue that his former role as the president of the Senate meant he was protected from legal scrutiny by the executive branch — including the Justice Department — under the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which aims to protect the separation of powers. The special counsel’s motion to compel Pence’s testimony focused on the issue of executive privilege, arguing that Pence should not be permitted to avoid answering questions by invoking it on Trump’s behalf.