The Justice Department’s (DOJ) apparent new focus on Donald Trump in its Jan. 6 investigation presents prosecutors with several possible paths to an indictment, as the House Select Committee’s own investigation into the House has sketched out. Blanche of the former president and his outside allies.
In recent days, federal prosecutors reportedly obtained phone records from former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, secured the cooperation of the committee’s star witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, and interviewed two of the former deputy’s top aides. -President Mike Pence before a grand jury.
The department’s new line of investigation will give it the opportunity to corroborate the select committee’s evidence and fill in remaining gaps in lawmakers’ case against Trump.
Jeff Robbins, a former federal prosecutor and congressional investigative attorney, said he thinks the committee hearings likely prompted renewed DOJ efforts by presenting a compelling public case against Trump.
“It’s probably no coincidence that there appears to be an increase in DOJ activity targeting the former president or encompassing the former president’s conduct after these hearings,” Robbins said. “I don’t think the circumstances are the same as several months ago because the whole country has seen so much evidence of criminal intent.”
The Washington Post reported new details about the Justice Department’s attention on Tuesday. According to the report, prosecutors asked grand jury witnesses for information about their conversations with Trump and the former president’s conduct around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
The focus was on Trump’s efforts to pressure Pence to obstruct congressional certification of Electoral College results and a plan to present a list of bogus voters who allegedly voted for the Electoral College. former president cancels results in key states. President Biden won.
Both of these areas were also the subject of select committee hearings over the summer, in which lawmakers alleged that Trump’s legal advisers knew the schemes were likely illegal, but had them when. even prosecuted.
Members of the select committee said their evidence supported Trump’s indictment on obstructing official process – a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and has been used against hundreds of indicted rioters following the attack.
According to the Post, the DOJ is pursuing investigative leads that could lead them to weigh such charges against Trump as well as those involving a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Even seditious conspiracy charges, which have been brought against members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, are reportedly under consideration, although experts warn the DOJ may ultimately be reluctant to bring such a heavy case.
And some observers say the select committee has provided ample evidence that would overcome significant legal hurdles that any potential lawsuit would have to overcome.
One of the key achievements of the hearings, Robbins said, was to provide a “mountain” of evidence that could be used to show that Trump acted with corrupt intent to nullify the election, a major threshold for prosecutors in any potential case that he conspired to obstruct or defraud government procedures. He said the DOJ’s ability to gain cooperation by turning over potential witnesses, a tool the select committee lacks, would likely be the next course of action for prosecutors.
“There are going to be people who knew about those discussions with the former president who have a much more powerful incentive to cooperate with the Justice Department than to testify before the committee,” Robbins said. “I guess the process is underway.”
Danya Perry, a former federal prosecutor, said the committee had already provided much of the evidence that would be needed to support the obstruction of process charges.
“We have already seen that every credible adviser – legal, political, family and otherwise – to the former president told him that he had lost the election and that there was no evidence of fraud. That he deliberately ignored that or just didn’t care, he would have objectively understood those facts. And I think there’s direct evidence that he did,” she said.
But she believes the strongest case Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ would be able to make revolves around the fake voter scheme, pointing to New York Times reports on Monday detailing emails from campaign staff that made reference to their plans to send “fake” certificates.
“Fake voters are just something that lay people can understand better. If you literally have a set of competing voters that we’ve now heard are actually called fake by the conspirators or the schemers, that’s just something you put before a jury of citizens and they see that and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I get that, I can get used to the idea,’ she said.
“Anyone who tries to circumvent the rules of the books and tries to do so by deceit and fraud and does us the favor of calling it fake – anyone in that position should be found guilty of fraud.”
The DOJ has done little to lend a hand to the committee even as it asks them for evidence, with Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-California) telling reporters Wednesday that “the last request was, you know , the 1,000 interviews”. ‘have done.
The panel and the DOJ are negotiating what form the information sharing might take, though Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the panel’s chair, insisted any review involves a session “in camera” where prosecutors could watch, but not take, any of the depositions.
“We’ve talked a lot about accountability, and for there to be real accountability, the Justice Department may have to act,” Aguilar said, “but that’s not our job.”
Perry said that if the DOJ decided to indict Trump, the decision would be made by the “heavyweight, deliberate, methodical attorney general we have.”
“Obviously, Garland and the line prosecutors are going to be very reluctant to bring charges that seem overly ambitious or aggressive. This is the one where they’re going to need to feel like they’re on as solid ground as possible,” she said.
“They’re going to want to make sure they can’t just sustain an indictment but uphold a conviction, and obviously the standard for that is beyond a reasonable doubt, but here I think they’re going to s assign a higher burden of proof than exists in the charging instructions the jury will receive.
Mychael Schnell contributed.