Prosecutors spent hours asking detailed questions about meetings Trump led in December 2020 and January 2021; his pressure campaign on Pence to undo the election; and what instructions Trump gave his lawyers and advisers about false voters and sending voters back to the states, the people said. Some of the questions focused directly on Trump’s level of involvement in the fake voter attempt led by his outside attorneys, including John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, these people said.
In addition, Justice Department investigators received phone records in April from key officials and aides in the Trump administration, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to two people familiar with the case. That effort is another indicator of how comprehensive the Jan. 6 inquiry had become, well ahead of the much-talked-about House hearings on the subject in June and July.
The Washington Post and other news organizations have previously written that the Justice Department is investigating the conduct of Eastman, Giuliani and others in Trump’s orbit. But prosecutors’ level of interest in Trump’s actions has not been previously reported, nor has the assessment of senior Trump aides’ phone records.
A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Justice Department spokesman and a lawyer for Meadows both declined to comment.
Trump refused to call for prosecution of rioters on Jan. 6, new video shows
The revelations raise the stakes of an already politically charged investigation involving a former president, who is still at the center of his party’s fortunes. which has survived previous investigations and two allegations. Long before the Jan. 6 investigation, Trump spent years complaining to the Justice Department and the FBI; the research closer to him is likely to amplify that antagonism.
Federal criminal investigations are inherently opaque, and investigations involving political figures are among the Justice Department’s best-kept secrets. Many end up without criminal charges. The lack of discernible investigative activity regarding Trump and his White House for more than a year after the January 6 attack has fueled criticism, especially from the left, that the Justice Department is not pursuing the case aggressively enough.
In an effort to understand how and why Trump supporters and lawyers tried to change the outcome of the election, one person familiar with the investigation said, at the very least, investigators also wanted to understand what Trump told his lawyers and senior officials to do. . Any investigation into the attempt to reverse the results of the election must address complex issues of First Amendment-protected political activity and when and whether one’s speech could become part of an alleged conspiracy to support a coup.
Many elements of the extensive criminal investigation of January 6 have remained secret. But in recent weeks, the public pace of work has picked up, with another round of subpoenas, search warrants and interviews. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, and attorney, Greg Jacob, appeared before the grand jury in downtown Washington in recent days, according to people familiar with the investigation. Both men declined to comment.
The Justice Department’s efforts are separate from the ongoing investigation by the House committee, which has sought to portray Trump as responsible for instigating the Capitol riots and for having neglected his duty because he refused to stop it. Both Short and Jacob testified before the committee, telling lawmakers that Pence opposed Trump’s attempts to bring him in on the case.
Unlike the Justice Department, the House panel does not have the authority to initiate criminal investigations or charge anyone with wrongdoing.
More than 840 suspects have been charged in the January 6 Capitol riot
The Justice Department’s investigation began amid the smoke, blood and chaos in the Capitol and has led to criminal charges against more than 840 people, and expanded to include an investigation into events that took place elsewhere in the days and weeks. before the attack — including at the White House, in state capitals, and at a hotel in DC.
There are two main leads from the investigation that could eventually lead to additional Trump investigation, two people familiar with the situation said, also on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The first is about seditious conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct government proceedings, the sort of charges already filed against individuals who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and against two leaders of far-right groups, Stewart Rhodes and Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, who did not breach the Capitol, but was reportedly involved in planning the day’s events.
The second concerns possible fraud related to the false voter scheme or to pressure that Trump and his allies allegedly put on the Justice Department and others to falsely claim that the elections had been rigged and that the votes had been cast fraudulently.
Recent subpoenas obtained by The Post show that two Arizona state lawmakers were ordered to turn over communications with “any member, employee, or agent of Donald J. Trump or any organization advocating for Donald J. Trump’s 2020 reelection.” , including “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.” ”
No former president has ever been charged with a crime in the country’s history. In cases where investigators found evidence to indicate that a president had engaged in criminal behavior, such as Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, investigators and successive administrations concluded that it was better to grant immunity or refrain from prosecution. One of the goals was to avoid the appearance of using government power to punish political enemies and to maintain the tradition of peaceful transfer of power.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed that the Jan. 6 investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead, saying: that no one is exempt or above control while refusing to disclose information outside of court records.
Garland told NBC News in an interview on Tuesday that the department is pursuing justice “without fear or favour. We intend to hold everyone, anyone criminally responsible for the events around January 6th, to account for any attempt to disrupt the lawful transfer of power from the disrupting one government to another – that’s what we do, we don’t pay attention to anything else.”
Biden criticizes Trump for watching Capitol riots on television as police faced ‘medieval hell’
The January 6 investigation is by some measures the largest ever undertaken by the Justice Department. While investigators have been involved in nearly every part of the country, the lion’s share of the work is done by three offices: the U.S. law firm in the District of Columbia and the criminal justice and national security departments at the division’s headquarters.
In the first year of the investigation, prosecutors focused primarily on the people who entered the Capitol, some by force, accusing hundreds of interfering or assaulting police or obstructing official proceedings.
This year, the fake voter scheme has become a major focus of the Justice Department’s investigation. After Trump lost the election, lawyers and others close to him urged GOP officials in key states to file alternative and illegal voter rolls to reject the results of the state’s vote totals. Those potential voters were aided in their efforts by Trump and Giuliani campaign officials, who publicly said the rival slates were necessary and appropriate, and was described as overseeing strategy.
Jeffrey Clark took to the streets in pajamas as federal agents searched his home
Last month, federal agents proliferated in multiple states to serve grand jury subpoenas, execute search warrants and interview witnesses — a significant escalation of overt investigative activity. As part of that effort, agents searched Eastman’s electronic devices and conducted a search of the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who enthusiastically embraced some of Trump’s last-ditch efforts to prevent Biden from becoming president. . Many of those who received a subpoena were specifically told to turn over their communications with Giuliani.
The Justice Department’s Inspector General is also a key player in the investigation, as it investigates Clark’s role as a Department official in allegedly advancing the effort.
In a Dec. 27, 2020 appeal, witnesses said Trump told Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen he wanted his Justice Department to say significant electoral fraud had occurred, and said he was ready to oust Rosen and imprison him. replaced by Clark, who was willing to make that claim.
Rosen told Trump the Justice Department couldn’t “turn a knob and change the election,” according to notes from the conversation cited by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I don’t expect you to,” Trump said, according to the notes. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
The president urged Rosen to “just hold a press conference”. Rosen refused. “We don’t see that,” he told Trump. “We are not going to hold a press conference.”
Jacqueline Alemany and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.