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Former Attorney General Bill Barr says grand jury activity on Jan. 6 suggests prosecutors ‘look closely at the top group, including the president’

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Former Attorney General Bill Barr called the most recent federal grand jury subpoenas investigating the Jan. 6, 2020 Capitol riot “a significant event,” which suggests government prosecutors are investigating top officials and allies. of the Trump administration, and even former President Donald Trump.

“That suggests to me that they look carefully at the group at the top, including the president and the people immediately around him who were involved in this,” Barr told CBS News’ Catherine Herridge in an interview Friday.

The grand jury met weekly; In late July, Marc Short, former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, testified and, according to the Washington Post, Greg Jacob, Pence’s chief counsel, was also interviewed by the grand jury.

The Justice Department’s criminal investigation into Jan. 6 now includes questions for witnesses about communications from people close to Trump and his re-election campaign, though it’s not obvious from CBS News reports. that Trump himself is the target of the investigation — only that prosecutors have asked about him and his aides.

Barr also assumes it appears prosecutors “will try to get a ruling on the issue of executive privilege,” given reports from ABC News and other outlets that the former attorney for the White House, Pat Cipollone, has been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. . The former attorney general noted that Cipollone, then an adviser to the president’s office, “has the strongest claim to executive privilege.”

“That’s kind of the biggest mountain for them to climb, and the fact that they start with that suggests to me that they want a definitive resolution – not just on Cipollone – but you know, it would affect [former White House chief of staff Mark] Meadows and some of the other people too,” he said.

While Barr thinks Trump might be able to block some testimony with an argument of executive privilege, he said, “I don’t think that would block all testimony.” He checked off a list of ways a privilege argument “is inapplicable here”.

“One argument,” he said, “is that it was waived by Biden and will have to be argued – whether Biden can do it or Trump can do it.”

Lawsuits by the former president to protect documents or testimony with claims of privilege have so far been dismissed by the courts, on the grounds that the claims were valid and that the privilege belonged to Mr. Biden.

Barr also pointed out that executive privilege does not apply in criminal cases.

“Another argument they have is that the criminal justice process, as opposed to Congress – the criminal justice process – executive privilege has to give way – you can’t hide behind it when a grand jury criminal is involved,” Barr said.

“And then they would have other arguments, like the criminal fraud exception,” Barr told Herridge. “If it’s part of the crime itself, it’s not covered.”

“And and another argument they would have is that some of the particular things weren’t really executive privilege,” Barr said. “The president was acting in his capacity as the candidate, not the president.”

Nonetheless, Barr suggested that if the case against Trump turns out to be essentially what the Jan. 6 committee revealed, that’s probably not enough to convict the former president.

Although he thinks the evidence has been mounting, after the last hearings on January 6, “if that’s what there is, as Attorney General, I still don’t see that as a sufficient basis to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed by the president.” Barr said he believes the Justice Department is “digging deeper and deeper” and that if Attorney General Merrick Garland finds a crime, he would continue.

The former president has strongly suggested he would like to run for president again in 2024. His 2016 campaign manager and former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told Herridge last week that Trump was eager to announcing that he was running again and that in fact he wishes he had been in the race “already”.

Barr feels optimistic about the future of the GOP. “I think the future is bright for the Republican Party,” he said, suggesting the GOP might even hold the presidency for the next 12 years.

“I see 2024 setting up another 1980, where Reagan won two terms and then Bush won a third term,” he said. It’s what he believes is necessary “to make America great again, you know – a decisive victory in reaction to the excesses of the progressive Democrats”.

But Trump wouldn’t deliver that, Barr says. “I don’t think he should be the nominee,” he said of Trump. “I think that would be really bad for the party, and I don’t support him as a candidate.”

As the former attorney general put it, if Trump won, he would be “a 78-year-old lame duck who is obviously out for revenge more than anything else.”

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