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The funny thing about Trump’s former lawyers’ grand jury testimony

When Trump’s former White House legal team appeared before a federal grand jury, we couldn't be sure which grand jury heard the lawyers’ testimony.


Last week, according to a CNN report, a federal judge ordered Pat Cipollone, the Trump White House counsel, and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, to provide additional grand jury testimony in at least one case related to their former boss, rejecting Donald Trump’s privilege claims. A day later, Politico moved the ball forward with this report:

Two of Donald Trump’s top White House lawyers appeared before at least one grand jury Friday, visiting the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. amid multiple criminal probes involving the former president. Former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exited the courthouse just before 2:30 p.m., spending about six hours behind closed doors. His former deputy, Pat Philbin, departed just after 4 p.m., spending about four hours with the grand jury.

The funny thing is the detail that Politico added: “It’s unclear precisely which investigation the pair were testifying about.”

Yes, because Trump is facing more than one ongoing criminal investigation, when the former president’s former White House legal team appears before a federal grand jury we can’t be entirely sure which grand jury heard the lawyers’ testimony.

MSNBC’s Ali Velshi explained Friday that NBC News spotted both Cipollone and Philbin entering the federal courthouse where jurors are hearing evidence in the investigation into Trump’s Jan. 6 efforts. Velshi added that reporters also spotted Justice Department prosecutors assigned to that investigation entering the same courthouse that morning and taking the elevator to the floor where the grand jury meets.

What’s more, there’s no doubt that the attorneys have an important perspective. Over the summer, for example, the public saw footage of Cipollone’s testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, which included some memorable exchanges. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, for example, asked the lawyer whether anyone on White House staff actually wanted the rioters to be in the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cipollone’s response of “On the staff?” hinted at a possible distinction between the then-president and those who worked for the then-president.

The Wyoming congresswoman clarified whether anyone “in the White House” was supportive of the mob’s attack, specifically Trump. This led to some awkward silence and exchanges between Cipollone and his own counsel.

As a Washington Post analysis summarized at the time, “It would seem relatively straightforward for Cipollone to give his perception of Trump’s feelings, leaving any personal conversations aside. And he seemed to genuinely want to. He also could have said his perception was that Trump didn’t like the riot. But he wouldn’t — or couldn’t — say it.”

But Cipollone and Philbin also have insights into the former president taking highly sensitive documents from the White House after his 2020 defeat. Remember this notable report from The New York Times in August?

Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, the White House counsel and his deputy under President Donald J. Trump, were interviewed by the F.B.I. in connection with boxes of sensitive documents that were stored at Mr. Trump’s residence in Florida after he left office, three people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin are the most senior people who worked for Mr. Trump who are known to have been interviewed by investigators after the National Archives referred the matter to the Justice Department this year.

While it’s tough to say with confidence which grand jury heard the attorneys’ testimony on Friday — in theory, I suppose it could’ve been both — the fact that Cipollone and Philbin appeared at all makes Trump’s legal troubles considerably more serious.