President Donald Trump and others in his administration have been claiming that a batch of 2019 emails discussing his hold on military aid to Ukraine are protected by "executive privilege." But U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — the Barack Obama appointee who sentenced Trump ally Roger Stone to 40 months in prison — rejected that argument on Monday, Aug. 10, ruling that the 21 emails in question enjoy no such protection.
Jackson, journalist Josh Gerstein reports in Politico, ruled that the Trump administration failed to show that email exchanges between White House aide Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, an official in the Office of Management and Budget, were eligible for executive privilege protections.
"During a teleconference Monday in which she announced her decision," Gerstein reports, "Jackson did not rule out the possibility that she might, at some point, uphold the government's bid for secrecy for the e-mails, but she said a pair of declarations OMB Deputy General Counsel Heather Walsh filed to back up the executive privilege claims were too vague."
Jackson stressed, "The declarations are based on inadmissible hearsay and not personal knowledge . . . The declarations don't come close here. In sum, the declaration appears to be based largely on Mr. Blair's job title, the location of his office and what assistants to the president in general 'often' do . . . That simply doesn't cut it."
In 2019, the Ukraine scandal led to Trump's impeachment. Trump, during a July 25, 2019 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate a political rival — former Vice President Joe Biden, now the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee — and his son, Hunter Biden. And prominent Democrats, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, argued that Trump committed an impeachable offense by making an investigation of the Bidens a condition of military aid to Ukraine. House Democrats indicted Trump on two articles of impeachment, but he was later acquitted during a trial in the GOP-controlled U.S. Senate.
According to Gerstein, "It remains unclear whether the disputed messages will emerge before the November election. Jackson gave Justice Department lawyers until Thursday to suggest how much time they'll need to prepare a more detailed justification for the privilege claims or decide to simply release the e-mails. One government attorney said she was likely to propose a date in late September for a further submission to the court."
Jackson is also the judge who, in March 2019, sentenced Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to three and one-half years in prison for conspiracy charges.