Former US attorney general Bill Barr has said the federal grand jury’s subpoenas over the Jan 6 Capitol riots imply a “hard look” is being taken at Donald Trump and “the people immediately around him”.
Mr Barr in a CBS News interview on Friday also termed the handing out of the subpoenas was a “significant event”.
Last week, the federal grand jury investigating the Jan 6 insurrection at the US Capitol subpoenaed the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his top deputy Patrick Philbin, suggest a more intensified investigation by the US Justice Department.
Mr Cipollone was also part of the legal team that defended Mr Trump in his first House impeachment trial in 2020.
This recent activity by the grand jury suggested prosecutors regard the former president’s then close advisers as potentially vital witnesses.
“This suggests to me that they’re taking a hard look at the group at the top, including the president and the people immediately around him who were involved in this,” Mr Barr said.
The former US attorney general was widely viewed as one of Mr Trump’s most loyal administrative officials.
But he has been critical of the former president’s actions on Jan 6 and has even called claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent were “bulls***”.
The grand jury has been meeting once a week, with Marc Short – former vice president Mike Pence’s chief of staff – testifying in late July and Greg Jacob, Mr Pence’s chief counsel, also interviewed, according to The Washington Post.
In the investigations, prosecutors are reportedly probing communication of those close to Mr Trump and his reelection campaign.
While both Mr Cipollone and Mr Philbin would have been privy to private conversations with Mr Trump, executive privilege can protect a president’s ability to obtain candid counsel from advisers without fear of immediate public disclosure.
When Mr Cipollone was interviewed privately by a separate House committee last month, he refused to discuss his conversations with Mr Trump, citing executive privilege.
But Mr Barr suspects prosecutors may “try to get a ruling on the issue of executive privilege”.
“That’s sort of the biggest mountain for them to climb, and the fact that they lead off with that to me suggests that they want a definitive resolution — not only on Cipollone — but you know, this would affect [former White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows and some of the other people, too,” Mr Barr said.
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