A federal appeals court rejected on Wednesday night an emergency attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to stop former Vice President Mike Pence from testifying in front of a grand jury investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The 11th-hour ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia paved the way for Mr. Pence to appear before the federal grand jury as early as this week.
Mr. Pence has always been a potentially important witness in the inquiry because of conversations he took part in at the White House in the weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. During that time, Mr. Trump repeatedly pressed Mr. Pence to use his ceremonial role overseeing the congressional count of Electoral College votes to block or delay certification of his defeat.
Prosecutors have been trying to get Mr. Pence to talk about Mr. Trump’s demands for several months — first in requests by the Justice Department for an interview and then through a grand jury subpoena issued by the special counsel Jack Smith, who inherited the inquiry into Mr. Trump’s attempts to stay in power.
Last month, in a pair of sealed rulings, Judge James E. Boasberg, the chief judge of Federal District Court in Washington, ordered Mr. Pence to appear before the grand jury, striking down two separate challenges that would have kept him from answering certain questions.
In one of those challenges, Mr. Pence sought on his own to limit his testimony by arguing that his role as the president of the Senate on Jan. 6, when Mr. Trump’s defeat was certified by Congress, meant he was protected from legal scrutiny by the executive branch — including the Justice Department. That argument was based on the “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution, which is intended to protect the separation of powers.
Judge Boasberg ruled that while Mr. Pence could claim some protections against testimony under the clause, he would have to answer questions about any potentially illegal acts committed by Mr. Trump. This month, Mr. Pence announced that he did not intend to appeal the decision.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Trump’s lawyers took the opposite path, asking the appeals court to reverse Judge Boasberg’s ruling on their own attempts to narrow the scope of the questions Mr. Pence would have to answer. Mr. Trump’s legal team based its arguments on the concept of executive privilege, which protects certain communications between the president and some members of his administration.
The appeals court’s sealed ruling on Wednesday night came in response to an emergency request — it was also sealed — to temporarily stop Mr. Pence from answering questions in front of the grand jury as the broader appeal is being considered.
When Mr. Pence ends up testifying, it will mark a significant turning point in the monthslong behind-the-scenes battle waged by Mr. Trump and several witnesses close to him to block the disclosure of details about plans to overturn the election.