WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill for evidence it has amassed about a plan by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies to submit false lists of pro-Islamic voters. Trump in battleground states. won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and chairman of the committee, revealed the request to reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, and a person familiar with the panel’s work said discussions with the Justice Department about the false voter scheme were ongoing. in progress. Those conversations suggest the department is sharpening its focus on that aspect of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, one with a direct line to the former president.
Thompson said the committee was working with federal prosecutors to allow them to review transcripts of interviews the panel has done with people who served as Trump’s so-called surrogate electors. Mr. Thompson said the Justice Department’s investigation into “fraudulent voters” was the only specific issue the agency had raised with the committee.
A Justice Department official said the agency maintained its position that it was requesting copies of all witness interview transcripts.
For weeks, the Justice Department has been negotiating with the January 6 panel about releasing transcripts of their interviews to federal prosecutors. The agency has asked the committee for copies of every transcript of each of its more than 1,000 interviews, while the committee has refused, requesting that the department limit its request.
Mr. Thompson’s comments on Wednesday were the clearest indication yet of what the Justice Department is after.
“We are in the process of negotiating what that information will look like,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that he believed Justice Department officials would make an appointment with the committee to review the transcripts in person. “We are engaged”.
The Justice Department has been investigating the scheme to present fake voters for months and has issued subpoenas for Trump’s top lawyers who worked on the scheme.
The committee presented evidence that Trump tried to persuade lawmakers in the battleground states won by Biden to create lists of surrogate electors supporting him, hoping that Vice President Mike Pence would use them to subvert the normal democratic process when he oversaw. the official election of Congress. counting of electoral votes on January 6.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
The plan appears to have been set in motion just days after the election, when a pro-Trump lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, sent an email suggesting the idea to John Eastman, another lawyer close to Trump.
By November 18, 2020, another pro-Trump attorney, Kenneth Chesebro, had joined the effort, writing a memo suggesting that the Trump campaign should organize its allies in several swing states to draft fake voter lists. Around Thanksgiving, others signed on to the plan, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, according to a recorded statement from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Meadows.
Eventually, the Republican National Committee was also involved, Ronna McDaniel, the group’s president, said in a recorded statement played at a hearing last month.
Ms. McDaniel testified that Mr. Trump had called her and put Mr. Eastman on the phone “to discuss the importance of the RNC helping the campaign rally these contingent voters.”
All of this was allowed to go ahead, the committee said, despite the fact that several Trump campaign lawyers believed it was illegal.
The committee has also amassed evidence about the scheme from the substitute electors themselves, issuing subpoenas to more than a dozen of them. Some of those who received subpoenas, including Georgia voters, complied and interviewed the panel.
Interest in the false voter scheme arose when the committee referred another matter to the Justice Department, regarding Trump’s possible interference with witnesses.
In recent weeks, the panel learned that two people called Ms. Hutchinson in what it characterized as an attempt to influence her testimony. Then, the committee revealed Tuesday, Trump personally called a witness, although he did not contact the person who notified his attorney, prompting the panel to refer the matter to the Justice Department.
“It’s very unusual,” Thompson told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “That’s why, more or less, we put that in the hands of the Justice Department.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said some Republicans tried to dismiss the issue by suggesting that Trump may have accidentally called the witness.
“But if the former president was trying to interfere with a witness, that would obviously be a very serious charge,” said Romney, who voted last year to convict Trump on the charge of inciting insurrection and impeach Trump at trial. political. him after the January 6 attack.
The committee’s focus on Trump’s potential witness tampering appears to be an effort to goad the Justice Department into investigating the former president for possible wrongdoing. In each of its recent hearings, the panel has presented evidence that its members believe could be used to bolster criminal charges against Trump. The committee has provided details, including about the phony voters, who could be subject to charges of conspiring to defraud the American people, falsifying documents and obstructing official congressional proceedings.
Witness tampering would be another way to prosecute the former president. Mr. Trump has a long history of making statements or taking actions that can be construed as attempts to interfere with ongoing investigations targeting him.
In April 2018, he called his former personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, shortly after the FBI searched Cohen’s apartment, office and hotel room and urged him to stay strong, a person with knowledge of the call said. .
He also made statements, in public and on Twitter, that Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, considered possible acts of obstruction of justice. Those messages included on Twitter claimed that Mr. Cohen would never turn on him after Mr. Cohen was clearly under investigation.
Mueller’s team, citing the Justice Department’s view that sitting presidents cannot be impeached, ultimately did not state whether it believed Trump had obstructed justice in the 11 cases it examined, but instead set them out extensively in the 448-page report he issued. .
Maggie Haberman, emily cochrane Y glenn thrush contributed report.