Mike Pence must testify to a grand jury about conversations he had with Donald Trump relating to the former president’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Judge James Boasberg in the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Pence, Trump’s former vice-president, would need to comply with a subpoena in the US Department of Justice probe into whether Trump committed any federal crimes in the aftermath of the 2020 election, including January 6 2021, when mobs of his supporters attacked the US Capitol and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
However, Pence does not have to answer specific questions pertaining to his actions on January 6 itself, when the then vice-president was acting as president of the US Senate and overseeing the electoral college certification process, the person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
The person requested anonymity because the ruling remains under seal. The judge’s decision was first reported by NBC News.
The decision is a big win for Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed in November by US attorney-general Merrick Garland to oversee DoJ probes involving Trump.
Smith is also overseeing an investigation into the former president’s handling of government documents that federal agents found during a search at his Mar-a-Lago residence in August last year.
Pence had challenged the subpoena, according to media reports, arguing he should be given immunity from testifying under the constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which can shield lawmakers from having to address legislative matters.
“Let me be clear, I’m going to fight the Biden DoJ subpoena to appear before the grand jury because I think it’s unprecedented and it’s unconstitutional,” Pence told reporters earlier this year.
A lawyer for Pence did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The DoJ declined to comment.
In response to the ruling, a Trump spokesperson said the justice department was “continuously stepping far outside the standard norms in attempting to destroy the long-held constitutionally based standards of attorney-client privilege and executive privilege”, adding that there was “no factual or legal basis or substance to any case” against the former president.
Despite his mounting legal troubles — Trump is also facing a criminal probe in Manhattan relating to alleged hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, and an investigation in Fulton County, Georgia, relating to the 2020 election — the former president remains the frontrunner to become the Republican party’s presidential nominee in 2024.
Trump launched his third bid for the White House just days after last November’s midterm elections. So far only Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, and Vivek Ramaswamy, an anti-ESG investor, have formally entered the race to challenge him.
Pence, who was governor of Indiana and a longtime member of Congress before serving as Trump’s vice-president, is widely expected to enter the race later this year. Pence is scheduled to make three public appearances in Iowa, a crucial early voting state, on Wednesday. Most public opinion polls put Pence in third place, behind Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, among likely Republican primary voters.