Federal Judge Says Pence Must Testify About Trump

March 28, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Federal Judge Says Pence Must Testify About Trump
FILE - Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters before the MockCon event at University Chapel at Washington and Lee University, March 21, 2023, in Lexington, Va. (Scott P. Yates/The Roanoke Times via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday rejected Donald Trump’s effort to block former Vice President Mike Pence from testifying before a grand jury investigating the former president for trying to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump’s lawyers claimed the executive privilege of the presidency should prevent Pence’s testimony.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Boasberg said Pence does not have to testify about his official duties but he must answer questions that might implicate illegal acts by Trump.

Pence was subpoenaed in February by the Justice Department’s special counsel investigating Trump.

Boasberg’s ruling represents a partial victory for Pence. The former vice president fought the subpoena by arguing the “speech or debate clause” of the Constitution protected him from testifying about his official acts. Unlike Trump, Pence did not assert executive privilege as a defense.

The judge largely agreed with the speech and debate clause argument but not that executive privilege should prevent Pence’s testimony on whether Trump was trying to incite violence during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. 

Executive privilege is a right derived from separation of powers in the Constitution that gives members of any presidential administration a right of confidentiality for their official communications and freedom from oversight by the legislative and judicial branches of government. It is intended to help presidents carry out their duties without interference from other segments of the government.

Trump’s attempts to overturn the election drove a wedge between him and Pence, who previously cooperated with the former president.

Pence said in interviews that Trump pressured him not to certify the Electoral College votes that gave a victory to Joe Biden. As vice president, he also served as president of the Senate, which means he had to preside over the certification of the vote by Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

He had no independent authority to change the vote count.

Pence has said in his book, “So Help Me God,” and in media interviews that history would hold Trump accountable for his actions. He said they threatened U.S. democracy as well as the safety of the vice president, his family and everyone who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Private conversations about the Jan. 6 riot that Pence mentioned in his book are some of the information sought by the Justice Department through grand jury testimony.

Boasberg’s ruling remains under seal. Pence said before the ruling that he might appeal to the Supreme Court if he was dissatisfied with it.

Pence gave no indication Tuesday of whether he planned to appeal.

In a separate ruling little more than a week ago, a different federal judge said a half-dozen other former Trump administration officials could not invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying to the grand jury. They include Mark Meadows, Trump’s last chief of staff.

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