Judge orders depositions of Trump, Wray in long-running dispute with ex-FBI officials

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A federal judge has agreed to permit former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to take sworn testimony from former President Donald Trump for two hours as part of their long-running lawsuits related to Strzok’s firing in 2018 after Trump repeatedly and publicly pilloried the pair.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled on Thursday that Strzok and Page — whose text messages disparaging then-candidate Trump cast a pall over the FBI’s investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia — would also be allowed to depose FBI Director Christopher Wray for a similar two-hour period on a limited set of topics.

But there’s a twist: Their ability to ask Trump and Wray about these circumstances might come down to a decision from President Joe Biden. Jackson’s order gave the Justice Department a month to “inform the Court whether the current President will invoke … executive privilege” over any aspects of Trump’s testimony.

Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, also stressed that she had not yet considered all potential objections to the demands for testimony from Trump and Wray. That could include arguments by Trump that he has the unilateral right as a former president to assert executive privilege.

Trump has spent years publicly assailing Strzok and Page for their disparaging private messages about him, claiming they proved that FBI bias fueled the Russia probe, despite independent reviews that failed to substantiate those claims. Strzok was fired amid the controversy, and Page resigned. Strzok is contesting his dismissal, and both are claiming invasion of their privacy over the manner in which the Justice Department released hundreds of their text messages.

In the suits, Strzok and Page contend that Trump and his Justice Department appointees were carrying out a political vendetta.

The Justice Department and the FBI have both denied that Trump’s public attacks played any role in the bureau’s decision to fire Strzok, saying it was a decision arrived at by career officials and carried out without political pressure. They’ve argued that deposing Trump or Wray would shed little light on decisions that were made by others at the FBI.

But Jackson’s ruling suggests there might be evidence that she thinks only Trump and Wray can provide. She noted that her decision was rooted in an analysis of the “apex doctrine,” which requires litigants to first seek information from figures at lower rungs of an organization before pursuing testimony of more senior officials.

Jackson also indicated that the depositions would be limited to a “narrow set of topics” that were defined in a sealed hearing on Thursday.