- Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege as the reason he refused to answer lawmakers’ questions about a meeting he had with his father, President Donald Trump.
- Trump Jr. said because a lawyer was present during the meeting, their conversation was protected.
- Legal experts say that’s not how attorney-client privilege works.
Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, arguing that because lawyers were present during one of his meetings with his father, President Donald Trump, he could refuse to answer lawmakers’ questions about their conversation.
The conversation between Trump Jr. and his father was about a meeting Trump Jr. had at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Russian lawyerto get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. spoke with his father shortly after the news about the meeting broke in July 2017, but declined to share details of their discussion with lawmakers.
Lawmakers and legal experts immediately derided Trump Jr.’s invocation of attorney-client privilege, noting on social media and in news outlets that the mere presence of a lawyer does not make a conversation protected.
“A lawyer isn’t a walking cone of silence,” Stanford law professor David Alan Sklansky told Vox. “The attorney-client privilege only protects confidential communications between a lawyer and a client to facilitate the provision of legal services.”
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Washington Post he’ll issue a subpoena if Trump Jr.’s lawyers continue to pursue his claim of attorney-client privilege. In the meantime, Schiff said, the lawyers have asked for more time to decide how to handle the claim.
“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” Schiff told Politico on Wednesday. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.”
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said on Twitter that he doubted any court would conclude Trump Jr.’s conversation with his father was protected.
“The general rule is that a conversation is *not* privileged if a third person is present for the conversation with an attorney and a client,” Mariotti said. “In this instance, both Trump and Trump Jr. are subjects of the same investigation and any legal advice they received on these topics would potentially implicate the other person.”
In fact, no communication between the Trumps would be protected unless both parties were receiving legal advice from a lawyer that applied to both of them, Duke University law professor Samuel Buell told the Post.
“That seems highly unlikely,” Buell said. “And the mere presence of a lawyer in the room is legally irrelevant. This is likely a frivolous assertion of the privilege.”