The decision of the Ministry of Justice to bring two senior aides to the former vice president Mike Pence before a federal grand jury is the most aggressive public action taken to date by prosecutors investigating conspiracies to overturn the 2020 election.
It signals that the Department’s investigation has reached inside former President Donald Trump’s White House and that investigators are examining conduct directly related to efforts by Trump and his closest allies to reverse his election defeat.
Former Pence chief of staff Marc Short testified before a grand jury in DC on Friday, CNN confirmed. Pence’s aide, Greg Jacob, has also testified in recent weeks, CNN has learned from a source familiar with the investigation.
Questions to Jacob and Short included a focus on the fake voter scheme and the role of Trump lawyers John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, the source said.
Short and Jacob were both present at key meetings in the run-up to the Jan. 6 uprising that were part of a pressure campaign to convince Pence to disrupt Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. .
Jacob, a former legal adviser to Pence, participated in the House Select Committee investigation on Jan. 6even testifying publicly at a hearing last month. (He did not respond to CNN’s inquiries regarding reports of his grand jury testimony.)
Short confirmed to CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday night that he had complied with a grand jury subpoena, but declined to discuss specifics of his appearance. Short has previously sat for a deposition as part of the House inquiry.
Short’s and Jacob’s accounts were among the evidence a California federal judge cited concluding that Trump and his allies may have planned a crime in their plot to disrupt the transfer of presidential power.
How to approach Trump in the Jan. 6 investigation has been a tricky question for the Justice Department. The department has faced immense pressure from lawmakers, former prosecutors and others to focus on the ringleaders of the 2020 election reversal maneuvers. But any investigation into a former president raises a host of highly sensitive and potentially explosive political and legal issues.
The fact that Pence’s inner circle is now compelled to cooperate with the investigation suggests that at least some of those obstacles have been removed.
Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland was obviously frustrated when a reporter asked him about the possibility of the former president being charged, as the former judge repeated vague claims that “no one is above the law in this country”.
In an interview with Lester Holt on “NBC Nightly News” on Tuesday, Garland said the DOJ would review any interference with the “lawful transfer of power.”
“I repeat that we will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate and legal transfer of power from one administration to another,” Garland said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the House Select Committee, said the testimony from Pence’s aides was a “positive” development.
“The Ministry of Justice must examine any possible criminality”, Kinzinger said Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” “I ask, what have they been doing for the past year and a half. That said, if they move forward looking at this stuff, it’s positive for the country.”
Short, Kinzinger added, is a good source.
“He certainly knows a lot of what happened, and I think under oath you can pretty much be confident that he will tell the truth,” the congressman said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Short and Jacob’s grand jury subpoenas. But a close look elsewhere at Trump’s election subversion schemes highlights the relevant events the two aides witnessed.
According to public submissions from the House Select Committee, Jacob was present at a January 4, 2021 Oval Office meeting with Trump and his attorney Eastman during which Eastman discussed a plan to have Pence not count the Biden voters who would be introduced in January. 6 certification ceremony.
Short also attended that meeting, and another meeting with Eastman and Jacob on Jan. 5, where Eastman’s push for Pence to disrupt certification was further discussed for another two and a half hours.
“What surprised me the most about this meeting was that when Mr. Eastman walked in, he said, ‘I’m here to ask you to turn voters out,'” Jacob said during the interview. a House committee hearing in June, while referring to a more aggressive proposal than what Eastman had recommended at the Jan. 4 meeting. Jacob also took notes commemorating Eastman’s claim, according to the committee.
Jacob recalled that Eastman admitted at one such meeting that such a move would violate the Voter Count Act, with Jacob testifying that Eastman believed the law was unconstitutional. Jacob also described a conversation with Eastman where Eastman admitted that no Supreme Court justice would support his position.
Jacob’s account of the meetings and emails he exchanged with Eastman, were also featured earlier this year to a federal judge who was considering ordering Eastman to produce certain emails to the committee.
In approving the release of the documents, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter indicated that he believed Trump’s conduct may have been criminal, conclude that it was “more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.”
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter wrote. “Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Unaware of this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the Vice President to single-handedly determine the 2020 election results.”
While Jacob and Short’s appearances before the grand jury were the most significant public development in the Justice Department’s investigation, there were other major signs that the department was moving beyond the low hanging fruit. to prosecute the rioters who physically violated the Capitol on Certification Day. .
As part of the investigation, federal investigators also interviewed Georgia Republicans about interactions with people in Trump’s orbit and his 2020 re-election campaign.
In one instance, FBI agents asked a prominent Georgia Republican if he had direct conversations with Trump.
“They just asked who spoke to me. If anyone from the Trump campaign had been in touch with me. Did Giuliani talk to me? Did Trump talk to me? Patrick Gartland, who was to be a voter but dropped out, said earlier. He recounted how two FBI agents visited his home in Marietta, Georgia this spring.
and the department issued numerous subpoenas in recent weeks, seeking information in the seven battleground states where Trump’s campaign has rounded up fake voters as part of an attempt to overthrow the Electoral College. Among those subpoenaed were GOP officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, CNN previously reported.
A grand jury subpoena for Arizona State Senator Karen Fann obtained by CNN through a public records request highlights how investigators have cast a wide net, their efforts focusing on false election conspiracy at the Trump administration and state level.
The subpoena to Fann, who led the partisan audit of ballots cast in Maricopa County, says prosecutors are seeking communications on all matters between anyone associated with the Trump administration, Congress and Trump’s re-election effort.
The House committee described the bogus election plot, in which Trump supporters would be fraudulently portrayed as surrogates for legitimate Biden voters, as part of the larger campaign to have Pence cut off certification of Biden’s victory . Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson also said he was working to share information with the Justice Department about this aspect of the lawmakers’ investigation.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has also raised the bar in its prosecution of those who violently assaulted the Capitol, with seditious conspiracy charges leveled against prominent members of fringe groups accused of planning to “violently oppose force the legal transfer of presidential power”.
The DOJ’s latest moves involving Pence aides come as Pence has broken with Trump over backing Republican politicians competing in the GOP primaries against Trump frontrunners, including in races in Georgia and Arizona where Trump lies. Trump on the 2020 election figured prominently.
This story has been updated with additional details.