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Appeals court rejects Trump's motion to block Mark Meadows, former aides from testifying in special counsel probe

Washington – A federal appeals court in Washington has denied former President Donald Trump's attempt to shield his one-time chief of staff Mark Meadows and other top aides from testifying before a grand jury in special counsel Jack Smith's investigation into Trump's actions around the 2020 presidential election and his alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack. 

Trump had appealed D.C. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell's rejection in March of his claims of executive privilege over the testimony of his former advisers. Howell's decision had compelled a group of aides to testify in the probe. 

The sealed case appeared on the appeals court's federal docket in late March with little identifying information, followed by a sealed emergency request on Monday that the appeals court intervene before the aides were called to testify. Tuesday's order — from Judges Patricia Millett, Robert Wilkins, and Gregory Katsas — indicated that the request had been denied. Grand jury proceedings remain shielded from public view under federal law. 

The decision came as Trump was about to be arraigned in Manhattan Tuesday on charges related to a "hush money" payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.  

While some of the former president's aides — including former national security adviser Robert O'Brien and top White House aide Stephen Miller —  have complied with subpoenas from Smith's office to appear before a grand jury, they have not testified about their interactions and exchanges with Trump, citing possible executive privilege concerns, according to people familiar with the matter. Both men, spotted in the federal courthouse where the special counsel convenes grand juries in the Trump matters over the last few months, were included in Howell's March 15 order.

Trump has unsuccessfully sought to shield many of his former White House aides from special counsel subpoenas, arguing to Howell that his conversations and communications with aides while he was president are protected from scrutiny. Howell – whose term as chief judge expired last month – largely rejected those claims and compelled many of the witnesses to testify.

The ruling comes as the new chief judge, James Boasberg, ruled this week that Trump's claims of executive privilege over former Vice President Mike Pence's testimony did not hold up. Boasberg ordered Pence to testify about Trump's effort to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, rejecting the former president's arguments. The judge did in part rule in Pence's favor, ordering prosecutors to refrain from asking Pence about his role as president of the Senate during the Capitol riot, which Pence argued was constitutionally protected by the separation of powers. 

Pence said he is consulting with legal counsel on the next steps and will follow the law. 

The former president has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has criticized Smith's investigation as partisan. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith, a former federal prosecutor, to oversee the Jan. 6 investigation and the Justice Department's probe into the mishandling of classified documents from Trump's time in office. 

Evan Corcoran, Trump's defense attorney, was forced to testify before a grand jury in the records case on Friday after Howell ruled that attorney-client privilege did not apply. 

A spokesperson for the former president did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Robert Costa contributed reporting.

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