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Trump White House counsel Cipollone appears before Jan. 6 grand jury

The former top lawyer at the White House is the highest-ranking aide to go before grand jury in Justice Department criminal probe of Trump’s actions amid efforts to overturn the 2020 election

Pat Cipollone, right, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse in D.C. on Sept. 2. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
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An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Cassidy Hutchinson as a former aide to Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone. She was an aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. The article has been corrected.

Former Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Pat Philbin appeared before a federal grand jury investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Friday — spending about four hours behind closed doors with jurors and prosecutors.

Cipollone became the highest-ranking White House aide known to appear before the grand jury in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, including former president Donald Trump’s actions, that culminated in the siege of Congress as lawmakers met to confirm President Biden’s election victory. Cipollone spent about 2½ hours with grand jurors and Philbin about 1½ hours.

Cipollone, Philbin and their attorney, Michael M. Purpura, declined to comment to reporters while entering and leaving court about their testimony or whether prosecutors steered clear of private presidential communications typically subject to executive and attorney-client privilege.

Cipollone was greeted upon arrival Friday morning at the federal courthouse in Washington by lead federal prosecutor Thomas Windom, who escorted him to the grand jury meeting area.

The two attorneys received federal grand jury subpoenas for testimony and documents, CNN reported on Aug. 3. Their expected appearance Friday was reported by ABC News, and it followed grand jury appearances in July by former vice president Mike Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, and attorney Greg Jacob.

Justice Dept. investigating Trump’s actions in Jan. 6 criminal probe

Cipollone was the top White House lawyer at the end of the Trump administration. He has emerged in several public accounts as a key witness to and critic of conversations held by the then-president with private lawyers and others in his inner circle who allegedly sought to substitute Trump allies for certified electors from some states Biden won. Conversations also included pressuring the Justice Department to falsely claim the election was rigged with fraudulent votes cast or propose the seizure of voting machines by the U.S. attorney general, secretary of defense or other federal officials.

In videotaped testimony played at televised hearings this summer held by the House select committee investigating events leading to the Capitol breach, Cipollone told investigators that he vigorously resisted efforts by Trump and outside advisers to undo the election, and that he, like former Trump attorney general William P. Barr, did not believe there was sufficient fraud to have affected the outcome of Biden’s victory in any state.

At a late-night meeting at the White House on Dec. 18, 2020, that Cipollone termed “unhinged,” for instance, he said election lawyer Sidney Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn exhibited a “general disregard for backing what you actually say with facts.”

Of the conspiracy-fueled notion to seize voting machines, Cipollone recalled telling Powell, “I don’t understand why we even have to tell you why that’s a bad idea, it’s a terrible idea for the country.”

Cipollone also has been described as opposing the sending of a letter drafted by attorney Jeffrey Bossert Clark to officials in Georgia, falsely declaring that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states.”

Cipollone told Trump that Clark’s proposed letter was “a murder-suicide pact” that would “damage everyone who touches it,” according to a deposition by then-deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue. In a call on Dec. 27, 2020, witnesses have said, Trump told acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen that he wanted the department to say there was significant election fraud, and said he was poised to oust Rosen and replace him with Clark, who was willing to make that assertion.

“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump told Rosen, according to notes of the conversation reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Trump backed down after Rosen, Donoghue and Cipollone refused and said they and other senior government lawyers would resign en masse, participants have said.

Cipollone answered questions for eight hours before the House Jan. 6 committee earlier this year, following riveting testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, who described her boss as one of the last firewalls blocking Trump’s efforts to subvert the election results.

She testified that on the morning of Jan. 6, Cipollone warned her in words she paraphrased as “ ‘Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.’ ”