Washington — In the same Washington, D.C., courthouse where the Justice Department has been convening grand juries to investigate former President Donald Trump’s actions around the 2020 presidential election and his handling of classified documents, federal prosecutors managing a separate case were successful Friday in their request to delay a Trump deposition that had been scheduled for later this month in a four-year-old civil lawsuit filed by former FBI officials.
Former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and a one-time attorney at the Bureau, Lisa Page, sued the Justice Department after they were both fired during the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In the course of the investigation, text messages exchanged by the two revealed anti-Trump sentiments.
Strzok’s lawsuit claims he was unjustly fired from the job for political reasons and seeks reinstatement at the FBI and back pay. Page argues the text messages were unlawfully released and violated her privacy.
In a minute order issued Friday evening, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in favor of the Justice Department’s request that FBI Director Christopher Wray be deposed before Strzok has a chance to question Trump.
Both Strzok and Page have moved to depose numerous former and current government officials, and earlier this year, Jackson ruled Strzok had the right to interview Trump and FWray. But according to an emergency filing on Thursday, federal prosecutors say Trump’s deposition, which was supposed to take place May 24, was scheduled before any such meeting was set for Wray. The Justice Department said this violates long-standing norms that federal officials are to be questioned in order of their seniority.
“Contrary to the request of the United States, Mr. Strzok seeks to depose former President Trump before Director Wray,” prosecutors wrote Thursday, “thereby making it impossible to determine if the Director’s deposition might obviate the need to depose the former President.”
They asked the judge to order a new schedule for the depositions and threatened to take the issue to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals if she did not agree.
“The Solicitor General authorized the government to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for a writ of mandamus as to this Court’s determination that former President Trump may be deposed in this matter,” the Justice Department revealed in the filing. Writs of Mandamus are rare orders issued by higher courts that supersede findings by lower court judges.
“For decades, the D.C. Circuit and virtually every other court of appeals have recognized that subjecting high-level government officials—to say nothing of current or former Presidents— ‘to oral deposition is not normally countenanced,'” prosecutors wrote in their redacted motion.
In her order Friday, Jackson wrote that “the parties have done nothing more than wrangle over the order of the two depositions.”
“The government seems chagrined that the Court did not order that the deposition of the FBI Director be completed first, but it may recall that it was the Court’s view that it was Director Wray, the only current high-ranking public official in the group of proposed deponents, whose ongoing essential duties fell most squarely under the protection of the doctrine in question,” Jackson wrote. “However, in order to get the parties — who apparently still cannot agree on anything — over this impasse, it is hereby ORDERED that the deposition of Christopher Wray proceed first, rendering the instant motion moot.”
Attorneys for both Strzok and Page’s legal team did not immediately respond to Jackson’s order when reached by CBS News.
Earlier this year, the White House said it would not assert executive privilege over Trump’s testimony and thereby shield him from deposition, and federal prosecutors said the former president did not request the privilege.
Strzok and Page’s text messages and involvement in the Russia investigation fueled much of Trump’s ire toward the FBI during the Mueller investigation, alleging anti-Trump views inside the Justice Department at the time. An inspector general report found that while the conduct was “completely antithetical to the core values of the department,” there was no evidence that any bias ultimately changed the outcome of the investigation.
In his lawsuit, Strzok alleges “The FBI fired [him] because of his protected political speech in violation of his rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” And Page contends the release of the text messages was unlawful and led her to be the subject of “frequent attacks by the President of the United States, as well as his allies and supporters.”
The Justice Department asked Judge Jackson to respond to their request to block Trump’s testimony by Tuesday.