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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jan. 6 panel will turn over evidence on fake electors to the Justice Department

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday, July 12, 2022.

By Luke Broadwater

The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol for evidence it has accumulated about the scheme by President Donald Trump and his allies to put forward false slates of pro-Trump electors in battleground states won by Joe Biden in 2020.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the committee, disclosed the request to reporters on Capitol Hill earlier this week, and a person familiar with the panel’s work said discussions with the Justice Department about the false elector scheme were ongoing. Those talks suggest that 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 the transcripts of interviews the panel has done with people who were so-called alternate electors for Trump. Thompson said the Justice Department’s investigation into “fraudulent electors” was the only specific topic the agency had broached with the committee.

A Justice Department official said the agency maintained its position that it was requesting copies of all transcripts of witness interviews.

For weeks, the Justice Department has been negotiating with the Jan. 6 panel about turning over transcripts of its 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 pushed back, requesting that the department narrow its request.

Thompson’s comments Wednesday were the clearest indication yet of what the Justice Department is looking for.

“We’re in the process of negotiating how that information will be viewed,” Thompson said, adding that he believed Justice Department officials would make an appointment with the committee to review the transcripts in person. “We’re engaging.”

The Justice Department has been investigating the scheme to put forward fake electors for months and has issued subpoenas to top Trump lawyers who worked on the plan.

Last month, the committee tied the former president directly to the scheme and presented fresh details on how Trump sought to bully, cajole and bluff his way into invalidating his 2020 defeat in states around the country.

The committee presented evidence that Trump sought to persuade lawmakers in battleground states won by Biden to create the slates of alternate electors supporting him, hoping that Vice President Mike Pence would use them to subvert the normal democratic process when he oversaw Congress’ official count of electoral votes Jan. 6.

The plan appears to have been set in motion 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 Nov. 18, 2020, another pro-Trump lawyer, 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 slates of electors. Around Thanksgiving, still others signed on to the plan, including Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, according to a recorded deposition from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Meadows.

Eventually, the Republican National Committee was brought in as well, Ronna McDaniel, the group’s chair, said in a recorded deposition played at a hearing last month.

McDaniel testified that Trump had called her and put Eastman on the phone “to talk about the importance of the RNC helping the campaign gather these contingent electors.”

All of this was allowed to go forward, the Jan. 6 committee said, despite the fact that several lawyers for the Trump campaign believed it was illegal.

The committee has also accumulated evidence about the scheme from the so-called alternate electors themselves, issuing subpoenas to more than a dozen of them. Some of those who received subpoenas, including electors from Georgia, have complied and sat for interviews with the panel.

The interest in the fake elector scheme came as the committee has referred another matter to the Justice Department, regarding Trump’s potential interference with witnesses.

In recent weeks, the panel learned that two people called Hutchinson in what she characterized as an attempt to influence her testimony. Then, the committee revealed Tuesday, Trump personally called a witness — although he did not reach the person, who notified their lawyer — prompting the panel to refer the matter to the Justice Department.

“It’s highly unusual,” Thompson told reporters on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “That’s why we, more or less, put that in the hands of the Justice Department.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said some Republicans had tried to dismiss the matter by suggesting that Trump might have accidentally dialed the witness.

“But if the former president was trying to interfere with a witness, that would be, obviously, a very serious allegation,” said Romney, who voted last year to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of incitement of insurrection and remove him after the Jan. 6 attack.

The committee’s focus on potential witness tampering by Trump appears to be an effort to prod the Justice Department to investigate the former president for potential crimes. At 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 fake electors, that could be grounds for charges of conspiracy to defraud the American people, falsifying documents and obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.

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