This might stretch the definition of 'privilege' to the breaking point.
In a move that is as brazen as it is odd, Lev Parnas — one of Rudy Giuliani's two associates arrested earlier this month — has raised the possibility the White House could invoke executive privilege in his case.
This is in spite of the fact that Donald Trump has said he doesn't know Parnas or his codefendant, Igor Fruman.
Parnas' attorney, Edward MacMahon Jr., told the judge overseeing the case that the White House might invoke the privilege over some of the evidence gathered because Parnas was using Giuliani as a lawyer at the same time Trump was.
For Trump to invoke the privilege in this instance would seem to stretch the idea to the breaking point. Executive privilege is generally described as "the right of the president and high-level executive branch officers to withhold information from Congress, the courts and ultimately the public" concerning some national security needs and when it is in the public interest to protect the privacy of White House deliberations.
The idea behind the privilege is that the executive branch needs to be able to discuss crucial matters with some level of confidentiality about those deliberations. It's difficult to see how that could be extended to anyone who happens to have the same lawyer as the president.
That is unless Trump and Giuliani were indeed working hand-in-hand with Parnas on Trump's Ukraine scheme. Given that pictures have surfaced showing Parnas being photographed with Trump, posing with Ivana Trump, and attending events with Giuliani all around the country, that may very well be true.
In a normal presidency, it would be highly unusual for the White House to say that privilege should stretch to cover any illegal acts allegedly committed by Parnas, who is charged with using straw donors to funnel money into U.S. elections and pressuring politicians to remove the ambassador to Ukraine. However, Trump made a blanket assertion of executive privilege for everything related to the Mueller report, used it to stop Congress from getting material about his census citizenship question, and barred former White House counsel Don McGahn from talking to Congress. He seems quite comfortable stretching privilege well past what logic would dictate.
Prosecutors haven't said they agree with the possibility that privilege could be invoked. Still, the government is already using a "filter team" to review whether any material should be kept from prosecutors because of attorney-client privilege. Now, we just have to wait and see whether Parnas has damning enough information or documents that Trump will step in and deploy executive privilege.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.