Justice Department questions witnesses about Trump in January 6 investigation


The Justice Department has remained largely silent on how and even if it would weigh on pursuing potential charges against Trump.

An image of Donald Trump is projected on the screen during the 8th public hearing of the House Committee investigating the January 6 bombing, on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 21. Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Federal prosecutors have directly questioned witnesses in recent days about former President Donald Trump’s involvement in efforts to reverse his election defeat, a person familiar with the testimony said Tuesday, suggesting the Department of Justice’s criminal investigation Justice has entered a more aggressive and politically tense phase.

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Trump’s personal role in elements of the push to undo his 2020 loss to Joe Biden has long been established, through his public actions and statements and the evidence gathered by the House committee investigating the 6 January 2021 against the Capitol.

But the Justice Department has remained largely silent on how and even if that would weigh on pursuing potential charges against Trump, and is even reluctant to admit that his role has been discussed at senior departmental meetings.

Asking about Trump in connection with a campaign plot or the attack on Capitol Hill does not mean the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation against him, a decision that would have immense political and legal ramifications.

The department’s investigation into a central part of the push to keep Trump in power — the plan to name lists of voters promised to Trump in battleground states won by Biden — now appears to be gaining momentum as the Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington are interviewing witnesses about Trump and members of his inner circle, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the person familiar with the testimony said.

In April, before the committee convened its round of public hearings, Justice Department investigators received phone records from top Trump White House officials and aides, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.

Two of Vice President Mike Pence’s top aides testified before the federal grand jury in the case last week, and prosecutors have issued subpoenas and search warrants to a growing number of figures linked to Trump and campaign to prevent its loss.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to comment, saying the Justice Department did not provide details of the grand jury proceedings. The department’s questioning of witnesses about Trump and his receipt of phone records was reported earlier by The Washington Post.

If a decision were made to open a criminal investigation into Trump after he announced his intention to run in the 2024 election, as he continues to hint that he might do, the department’s leadership would be required to undertake a process. formal consultation, then sign an endorsement of the department’s intentions under an internal rule created by former Attorney General William Barr and approved by Garland.

But in recent days, Garland has repeatedly asserted her right to investigate or prosecute anyone, including Trump, as long as that’s where the evidence leads.

“The Department of Justice has worked from the beginning to learn all we can about this period and to bring to justice all those who were criminally responsible for obstructing the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. , which is the bedrock of our democracy,” Garland told “NBC Nightly News” in an interview that aired Tuesday, when asked to comment on criticism that his investigation was moving too slowly.

The questions about Trump focused, among other topics, on the plan he was pushing to derail Congress’ certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the person familiar with the testimony said.

Pence’s two aides who testified before the grand jury — Marc Short, who was his chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, who was his attorney — were present at an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, when Trump said sought to pressure Pence to adopt the plan to cite competing voter rolls as justification for blocking or delaying Electoral College certification.

In recent weeks, the Justice Department has also seized the phones of two key figures, John Eastman, the attorney who helped craft and promote the plan to overturn Electoral College certification, and Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was at the center of the related push to send lists of pledged voters to Trump from states Biden won.

Prosecutors have also issued grand jury subpoenas to figures linked to the so-called bogus voter scheme. Those who received the subpoenas are largely state lawmakers or Republican officials, many of whom have put their names on documents showing they were Trump voters in states that were won by Biden.

The subpoenas, some of which were obtained by The New York Times, show prosecutors are interested in gathering information on a group of pro-Trump lawyers who helped devise and execute the plan, including Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, who was Trump. personal lawyer.

There are also indications that the tense standoff between the Justice Department and congressional investigators over interview transcripts conducted for the Jan. 6 committee hearings is easing. The Chamber is about to start handing over some of the transcripts and intends to pick up the pace in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the matter.

Committee members said they are still considering making a criminal referral to the Justice Department in hopes of increasing the pressure on Garland to prosecute Trump.

Garland ignored this suggestion.

“I think it’s entirely up to the committee,” he said in his NBC interview. “We will have the evidence that the committee has presented, and whatever evidence they give us, I don’t think the nature of their style, the way the information is provided, is of any particular importance in any way. from a legal point of view. .”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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