January 6 anniversary: Two years after US Capitol attack, investigation into Trump and insurrection enters new phase

January 6 anniversary: Two years after US Capitol attack, investigation into Trump and insurrection enters new phase


Two years after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department’s wide-ranging criminal investigation into an attempt to block a peaceful transition of power enters a new phase with the special counsel adding two right-wing prosecutors to an experienced team that ultimately will determine whether former President Donald Trump or his allies should be prosecuted.

Special prosecutor Jack Smith is back in the US after spending the past month working remotely in Europe while recovering from a bicycle accident.

He is adding two longtime associates who specialize in public corruption cases, according to a person familiar with the matter: Raymond Hulser, former head of the DOJ’s public integrity section, and David Harbach, who prosecuted against former Senator John Edwards and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

The expansion under Smith strengthens the bureau’s ability to review broad conspiracy cases and determine avenues of investigation, another source said. They join a team of more than 20 prosecutors from the DOJ, as well as senior advisers brought into the department in recent months, who were already investigating Trump and his allies.

Despite assurances from Attorney General Merrick Garland that Smith’s appointment won’t slow down the dual investigations tied to Trump, building up his office is taking time. Smith’s team is still working to find a permanent physical location, but has begun changing email addresses for employees who previously used their regular Justice Department accounts.

Harbach was seen by CNN taking the stand in federal court in D.C. on Thursday, speaking with another special prosecutor on extremist group cases and briefly sitting in on an ongoing Oath Keepers conspiracy trial.

According to the Department of Justice, more than 950 defendants have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the January 6, 2021 riots, with more than 500 found guilty. Four people died in the attack, including rioter Ashley Babbitt who was shot by a Capitol Police officer, two members of the crowd who suffered heart attacks and one who died of an overdose. The DOJ says 140 officers were injured that day and five officers died in the months following the riots – one from a stroke and four from suicide.

Smith and his new team inherited the investigation on Jan. 6 at a crucial time, as the public has a better understanding of the lengths the former president and his allies have gone to in trying to keep Trump in the Oval Office, but even as investigators of Congress reached the limits. of their powers.

And where the House select committee hit brick walls in its investigation — including renegade witnesses who claimed privilege, or, like Mark Meadows, surrendered to cooperating with congressional investigators midway — DOJ prosecutors— now working under Smith will have certain tools to dismantle those barriers. . They include ongoing legal proceedings to pierce the shield of confidentiality that normally surrounds a president.

The special counsel also has a large amount of evidence in hand to review, including evidence recently submitted by a House committee on Jan. 6, subpoena documents provided by local officials in key states and disclosures. collected by lawyers for Trump. allies late last year in a flurry of activity, at least some of which hasn’t even been reviewed yet, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Smith himself sent calls to election officials in seven battleground states and received a trove of materials. The Michigan secretary of state’s response included an email from a county official reporting two voicemails they received in December 2020 from individuals requesting access to voting equipment. One call came from someone claiming to work for Trump’s legal team after the election, the official wrote.

As Trump’s direct involvement in efforts to block the 2020 election certification becomes clearer, so do the obstacles investigators could face if they try to build a case against the former president.

“They might get to the colonels, but they might not get to the general,” Michael Moore, a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration, told CNN.

Witness emails, text messages and testimony from a Jan. 6 House committee show Trump’s role in pushing alternative voter lists, pressuring state officials on the battlefield to overturn election results, trying to replace the attorney general general in office with someone who would accept allegations of electoral fraud and lying. grounds early on to summon his followers to the Capitol.

“POTUS’ expectations are to have something intimate on the ellipse and call on everyone to march on the capitol,” rally organizer Katrina Pierson wrote in an email days before the Capitol attack.

But the interview transcripts released by the committee also reveal gaps that could stymie federal investigators, witnesses with shaky recollections and testimony about Trump’s technological evasion.

“My dad doesn’t use text messages or email,” Donald Trump Jr. told them. to congressional investigators during his interview. As for the other messaging apps, “I’m not sure he would know what they were,” Trump Jr. said.

Trump’s style of asking vague questions rather than direct demands was also on display as he pressured state officials to change election results. “One thing I remember is that he never, to my recollection, asked a specific question,” said former Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. “It was always just general topics.”

The committee’s investigation has provided a fuller and more nuanced picture of the interrelated conspiracies that the DOJ has been investigating, including a scheme to submit Trump’s list of illegal voters from the battleground states that Biden won to put pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence and Congress. to stop certifying the results.

Campaign staff testified that Trump was behind the attempted stunt, and the panel gathered other evidence that Trump was silent about its operation — including a phone call with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.

According to evidence gathered by the committee, many of the state-based operatives and the fraudulent voters themselves were largely in the dark about what the ultimate gambit was. Some of them testified that they were under the impression that alternative voters were gathering as a contingency plan in case Trump prevailed in a legal challenge that changed the outcome in their state.

Meanwhile, top Trump campaign officials distanced themselves from the effort after the last significant election challenge — a long-shot petition to the Supreme Court — was dropped on Dec. 11, 2020.

For those who continued to work on the scheme given congressional certification, “the DOJ would have a much easier case to prove,” said Ryan Goodman, a New York University School of Law professor and former counsel general of the Department of Defense.

The committee has gathered evidence that a group of Trump’s legal advisers — specifically, former Wisconsin state judge Jim Troupis and attorney Kenneth Chesebro — were eyeing congressional certification as they set the voter fraud scheme in motion.

A Dec. 9 memo outlining the plan suggests those advisers saw electors as the crucial alternative not just in the event of a court ruling reversing Trump’s electoral loss, but if a “state legislature” or “Congress” deemed Trump’s electors to be valid. .

Trump and his allies could face additional criminal exposure beyond the DOJ investigation as prosecutors in Georgia are also investigating efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election there. The Atlanta-area district attorney leading that investigation, Fani Willis, has labeled individuals who served as pro-Trump Georgia voters “targets” in her investigation, along with some prominent Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani.

While the committee made the historic move to refer Trump to the Justice Department for prosecution, it also named several Trump allies as potential accomplices in its final report. One of them was former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

“It was very clear that the former president was the center of this conspiracy, but he was certainly aided by many others, including … Mark Meadows and the like,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who served on the committee.

Meadows repeatedly comes up in the committee’s investigation, with evidence showing his involvement at some level in every game to overturn the election. Some of the most revealing evidence came from Meadows himself — in the thousands of text messages he turned over to the committee before ceasing his cooperation with the investigation.

The texts show that beginning on Election Day, Meadows was connecting activists pushing conspiracy theories and strategy with GOP lawmakers and rally organizers preparing for Jan. 6. Two days after the election, Trump Jr. was messaging Meadows with ideas to keep his father in power that he thought were “the most sophisticated” and “seemed plausible.”

Meadows and Giuliani, Trump’s former lawyer, were involved in early conversations about filing false voter forms, according to testimony former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson gave to the committee.

Transcripts released by the committee also reveal Hutchinson testified before the committee how Meadows regularly burned documents in his fireplace about a dozen times — about once or twice a week — between December 2020 and mid-January 2021.

After turning over the texts to congressional investigators, Meadows switched gears and failed to appear for subpoenaed testimony before the House. A lawsuit he filed to challenge the subpoena was unsuccessful, but the Justice Department decided not to file criminal charges for his lack of cooperation.

The committee noted in the summary of their report that criminal prosecutors may have access to materials that lawmakers did not, pointing specifically to Meadows.

“Indeed, both the Department of Justice and the Fulton County District Attorney may now have access to testimony and witness records not available to the Committee, including testimony from President Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and others who have either claimed privilege or been summoned. their Fifth Amendment rights,” the brief states.

“When it comes to the president, he committed no crime, so there should be absolutely no criminal prosecution of him,” said Timothy Parlator, one of Trump’s lawyers.

Parlatore insisted that Trump and his team “were not looking to overturn the will of the people, just to make sure the will of the people was counted accurately,” adding that Trump was “absolutely against” the violence that took place in the US Capitol. .

Meadows’ attorney declined to comment.

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