Federal prosecutors have directly questioned witnesses in recent days about former President Donald J. Trump’s involvement in efforts to reverse his election loss, a person familiar with the testimony said Tuesday, suggesting the Department’s criminal investigation of Justice has become more aggressive and politically. tense phase.
Trump’s personal role in elements of the push to overturn his 2020 loss to Joseph R. Biden Jr. has long been established, both through his public actions and through his statements and the evidence collected by the House committee. investigating the January 6 attack.
But the Justice Department has been largely silent on how and even if it would consider bringing potential charges against Trump, and was reluctant even to admit that his role was discussed in senior leadership meetings at the department.
Asking questions about Trump in relation to the voter plot or the attack on Capitol Hill does not mean that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into him, a decision that would have immense political and legal ramifications.
The department’s investigation into a central element of the push to keep Trump in office, the plan to name lists of voters who pledged to Trump in battleground states won by Biden, now appears to be accelerating as prosecutors with support from the US attorney’s office in Washington questions witnesses about Trump and members of his inner circle, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the person familiar with the testimony said.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
In April, before the committee convened its series of public hearings, Justice Department investigators received phone records of key officials and aides at the Trump White House, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Two top aides to Vice President Mike Pence testified before a 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 the campaign to prevent their loss.
A spokesman for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland declined to comment, saying the Justice Department did not provide details about the grand jury proceedings. The department’s questioning of witnesses about Mr. Trump and receipt of phone records were previously reported by The Washington Post.
If a decision were made to open a criminal investigation into Mr. Trump after he announced his intention to run in the 2024 election, as he continues to hint he might, it would require department leadership to undertake a formal consultation process and then sign a formal approval of the department’s intentions under an internal rule created by former Attorney General William P. Barr and endorsed by Mr. Garland.
But in recent days, Garland has repeatedly asserted his right to investigate or prosecute anyone, including Trump, wherever the evidence leads.
“The Justice Department has been moving urgently from the beginning to learn everything we can about this period, and to bring to justice all those who were criminally responsible for interfering with the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. , which is the fundamental element of our democracy”, Mr. Garland he told “NBC Nightly News” in an interview broadcast Tuesday, when he was asked to comment on criticism that his investigation was moving too slowly.
Questions about Trump focused, among other topics, on the plan he was pushing to derail congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the person familiar with the testimony said.
The two Pence 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 January 4, 2021, when Trump tried to to pressure Mr. Pence to adopt the plan to cite competing lists of voters 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 develop and promote the scheme to decertify the Electoral College, and Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was at the center of the related push to send lists of voters committed to Mr. Trump from states won by Mr. Biden.
Prosecutors also issued grand jury subpoenas to figures connected to the so-called false voter scheme. Those who have received the subpoenas have largely been state legislators or Republican officials, many of whom put their names on documents attesting to the fact that they were Trump electors in states Biden won.
The subpoenas, some of which were obtained by The New York Times, show that prosecutors are interested in gathering information about a group of pro-Trump lawyers who helped design and carry out the scheme, including Eastman and Rudolph W. Giuliani. , who was Mr. Trump’s personal attorney.
There are also signs that the tense standoff between the Justice Department and congressional investigators over transcripts of interviews conducted for the Jan. 6 committee hearings is easing. The House is ready to start delivering some of the transcripts and intends to pick up the pace in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with the situation.
Committee members have said they are still considering making a criminal referral to the Justice Department in hopes of increasing pressure on Garland to prosecute Trump.
Mr. Garland shrugged at that suggestion.
“I think that’s totally up to the committee,” he said in his interview with NBC. “We will have the evidence that the committee presented, and whatever evidence they give us, I don’t think the nature of their style, the way the information is provided, has any particular meaning from any legal point of view. .”