January 6 committee lays out potential criminal charges against Trump

WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol said Wednesday there was enough evidence to conclude that former President Donald J. Trump and some of his allies could have conspiring to commit fraud and obstruction by misleading Americans as to the outcome. of the 2020 election and attempting to overturn the result.

In a filing in court in a civil case in California, the committee’s lawyers for the first time laid out their theory of a possible criminal case against the former president. They said they had amassed evidence showing that Mr Trump, Conservative lawyer John Eastman and other allies could potentially be charged with criminal offenses including obstructing an official congressional process and conspiracy to defraud. the American people.

The filing also said the men could have breached a common law law against fraud by Mr. Trump’s repeated lies that the election was stolen.

The filing revealed only limited new evidence, and the committee asked the civil case judge to review the relevant documents behind closed doors. To affirm the potential for criminality, the committee relied heavily on the extensive and detailed accounts already made public of the actions taken by Mr. Trump and his allies to keep him in office after his defeat.

The committee added information from its more than 550 interviews with state officials, Justice Department officials and top Trump aides, among others. He said, for example, that Jason Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior campaign adviser, testified in committee deposition that Mr. Trump was briefed shortly after Election Day by a campaign data expert “in fairly blunt terms” that he was going to lose, suggesting that Mr Trump was well aware that his months of claims about a stolen election were false.

The evidence gathered by the committee “provides, at a minimum, a good faith basis for concluding that President Trump violated” the filibuster count, the filing, authored by Douglas N. Letter, the House General Counsel, said, adding, “The Select Committee also has a good faith basis for concluding that the President and his campaign members engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

The filing says a “review of documents may reveal that the president and members of his campaign engaged in common law fraud in their efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”

Representatives for Mr. Trump did not respond to requests for comment.

Charles Burnham, a lawyer for Mr Eastman, said his client, like all lawyers, “has a responsibility to protect client confidences, even at great personal risk and expense”.

“The Select Committee responded to Dr Eastman’s efforts to discharge this responsibility by charging him with criminal conduct,” Mr Burnham said in a statement. “Because this is a civil case, Dr. Eastman will not enjoy the constitutional protections normally afforded to people accused by their government of criminal conduct. Nevertheless, we look forward to responding in due course.

The panel, which is controlled by Democrats, is a legislative committee and does not have the power to charge the former president — or anyone else — with a crime.

But the filing contains the clearest indication yet of the committee’s direction as it weighs making a criminal Justice Department referral against Mr Trump and his allies, a step that could put pressure on Attorney General Merrick B Garland to take charge of the case. The Justice Department has said little about whether it might ultimately pursue a case.

The filing presented a full, albeit now well-documented, account of the plot to void the election, which included false allegations of voter fraud, plans to put forward pro-Trump “substitute” voters, pressuring various federal agencies to find irregularities and ultimately push Vice President Mike Pence and Congress to exploit the Voter Count Act to keep a losing president in power.

“While the president and his associates spread dangerous misinformation to the public,” the filing states, Mr. Eastman “was a leader in a related effort to persuade state officials to alter their election results based on of these same fraudulent allegations”.

The court filing stems from a lawsuit by Mr Eastman, who is trying to persuade a judge to block the committee’s subpoena for documents in his possession, alleging a “highly partisan” invasion of his privacy. The committee issued a subpoena to Mr. Eastman in January, citing a memo he authored explaining how Mr. Trump could use the VP and Congress to try to invalidate the 2020 election results .

As part of the lawsuit, Mr. Eastman sought to protect release documents that he claimed were covered by solicitor-client privilege. In response, the committee argued – under the legal theory known as the criminal fraud exception – that the privilege does not cover information passed from a client to an attorney if it was part of the promotion or concealment of a crime.

Mr Eastman then argued that the committee had provided ‘no evidence’ that a criminal fraud exception existed, prompting the committee’s latest filing.

“The evidence supports an inference that President Trump, the plaintiff, and several others entered into an agreement to defraud the United States by interfering with the election certification process, spreading false information about voter fraud, and pressuring on state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist in this effort,” the filing reads.

He also referenced a recent decision in a civil lawsuit in Washington, D.C., in which Federal District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta found it “reasonable to believe that the president entered into a conspiracy with the rioters on January 1. 6, 2021.”

“In addition to the legal effort to delay certification, there is also evidence that the conspiracy extended to rioters engaged in violence on Capitol Hill,” the filing said.

On Tuesday, the California State Bar announced an investigation of Mr. Eastman into whether he engaged in conduct that violated California ethics law and rules.

Mr. Eastman’s memo to Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Pence might reject voters in some states. Mr. Eastman also participated in a briefing for nearly 300 state lawmakers, during which he told the group it was their job to “fix this, this egregious conduct, and make sure we don’t We’re not going to put a guy in the White House who hasn’t been elected,” according to the committee.

He met with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence to make his case, attended a meeting of Trump advisers at the Willard Hotel and spoke at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6 , before the assault on the Capitol. As the violence erupted, he sent a message blaming Mr Pence for not going through with his plan.

As a mob attacked the Capitol building chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” Mr. Eastman sent a hostile message to the vice president’s top lawyer, accusing Mr. Pence of being responsible for the violence.

“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss failed to do what was necessary to allow this to be released publicly so that the American people could see for themselves what happened,” he said. he writes to Greg Jacob, the head of Mr. Pence. Advice.

In a recent lawsuit filing, Mr. Eastman said Mr. Trump retained him “due to his electoral law and constitutional expertise” in the fall of 2020 for “federal litigation related to the presidential general election. of 2020, including electoral matters”. linked to the electoral college.

On September 3, 2020 – two months before Mr. Trump lost the election – Mr. Eastman was asked by pro-Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell to join an election integrity task force to begin preparing for a anticipated post-election dispute. Mr Eastman said Mr Trump asked Ms Mitchell to undertake the effort in August.

The judge handling the case has already denied a request by Mr. Eastman to shield nearly 19,000 committee emails, saying congressional investigators have the power to see the messages and that the First Amendment does not protect his communications. Mr Eastman has so far delivered around 8,000 emails.

Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman contributed report.

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