Justice Department closes in on documents subpoenaed from GOP operatives connected to Trump fake electors plan
By Katelyn Polantz, Sara Murray and Holmes Lybrand, CNN
Republican operatives connected to the plan to put forward “alternate” electors for Donald Trump are set to turn over information to the Justice Department as soon as this week — as criminal investigations examining efforts to overturn the 2020 election pick up pace.
The DOJ issued numerous subpoenas in the past few weeks and is seeking information in all seven battleground states where Trump’s campaign convened the false electors as part of the effort to subvert the Electoral College. Some of the subpoenas called for Republicans connected to the scheme to provide documents by Friday, sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.
It’s the latest step by federal investigators in an already sprawling criminal investigation, and it comes as a parallel investigation in Georgia also shows signs of ramping up amid subpoenas for former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to testify.
At the same time, the House select committee is revealing new information in public hearings from its investigation into Trump’s “seven-part plan” to overturn the election that culminated in the US Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.
That plan, according to the committee, included the fake electors, a pressure campaign on then-Vice President Mike Pence to stop the counting of electoral votes, and the assembly of a violent mob that Trump directed to march to the Capitol — which is expected to be the subject of next Tuesday’s hearing.
The Justice Department has charged more than 800 people for their role in rioting at the Capitol on January 6. More than 300 have pleaded guilty. In recent months, the DOJ’s investigation has broadened beyond the rioters. It was first focused outside the Trump administration — on fake electors, organizers of the rally that preceded the attack, and on extremist groups. Now the department is moving closer to the political circles around Trump.
While the criminal investigation moves swiftly — in recent weeks a “Stop the Steal” rally organizer testified to a grand jury and a new Oath Keepers conspiracy defendant was charged — the Justice Department has kept its next round of targets close to the vest.
“We never know where it’s going to go,” said Philip Linder, a defense attorney for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who has been charged with seditious conspiracy. “There’s still stuff going. They’ve got to be looking at anything and everything they can do.”
In late June, the Justice Department issued several subpoenas to individuals involved in the fake electors plot, including GOP officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Two Republican state senators in Arizona also received subpoenas around the same time.
The documents to be turned over under subpoenas are likely to include communications between fake electors, as well as with Trump campaign officials who helped orchestrate the effort.
Also in late June, federal investigators seized electronics from Trump attorney John Eastman. Electronics were also seized during an early morning raid at the home of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who attempted to help Trump enlist the department in the effort to claim the 2020 election was fraudulent.
So far, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with efforts in political circles to try to overturn the election.
Impact of Hutchinson testimony
Trump’s potential criminal exposure has risen significantly in the wake of last week’s testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson to the House select committee. Hutchinson’s testimony presented new avenues for federal investigators to potentially examine whether Trump tried to obstruct, conspired against or attempted to defraud the government, several experienced prosecutors-turned-defense attorneys told CNN.
The House committee has also raised accusations of people close to Trump trying to influence Hutchinson’s testimony. On Friday, former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone will testify to the committee after he was subpoenaed following Hutchinson’s testimony.
The DOJ investigation appears to lag in some ways behind the House committee’s work, and while the two probes have largely operated separate and apart from one another, they are starting to intersect — and not without tension. The DOJ has requested access to transcripts of witnesses who’ve spoken to the House and been unable to access them as readily as investigators wish. The House says they’ll eventually release all their materials.
Key players from the Trump administration who’ve sat for interviews with the House have not been contacted by the Justice Department, though their attorneys believe they could be in the future.
And while the House select committee readies for a hearing next Tuesday that promises to shed light on connections between Trump’s political world and extremist groups, the DOJ still hasn’t nailed down a major accusation made in court that was poised to link Trump’s inner circle with Rhodes, the Oath Keepers leader.
That accusation was that Rhodes called a person on speakerphone and asked to send the message to Trump that the Oath Keepers could help him block certification of the election on January 6, according to Oath Keepers cooperator William Todd Wilson, who has pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges.
Wilson revealed he overheard the night-of-the-riot conversation when he pleaded guilty in federal court in May.
About three weeks ago, a DC US Attorney’s Office prosecutor told defense attorneys in the Oath Keepers case that investigators still hadn’t identified whom Rhodes called and were continuing to investigate, Rhodes’ attorney Linder told CNN. Rhodes’ defense team maintains there was no call like the one Wilson spoke about. The DOJ and a lawyer for Wilson haven’t responded to inquiries from CNN.
While the investigation plods along, the two most prominent January 6 criminal cases so far, accusing leaders of the Proud Boys and leaders of the Oath Keepers of seditious conspiracy, are headed to trial.
But the House committee’s approach has not made that lead-up easy. The House has not given the DOJ access to many of its transcripts of closed-door witness interviews–some of which could be relevant to the upcoming trials.
The trial for Proud Boys leaders recently was rescheduled amid concerns that information from the January 6 committee’s investigation into the Capitol riot could impact the case. Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the DC District Court said he “reluctantly” agreed to delay the trial — originally scheduled for early August — to December. Some of the defendants objected to the delay, while others wanted it.
Much of the concern from the Justice Department and several defense attorneys for the Proud Boys was that they still were awaiting the release of transcripts from the committee’s 1,000 witness interviews, which prosecutors said might be released in September.
Leaders of the Oath Keepers could also face a trial delay, depending on what information the committee reveals and when.
During a hearing in late June, federal Judge Amit Mehta told Oath Keepers’ defense teams and prosecutors they would need to wait and see what the committee does and that he likely didn’t have the power to compel Congress to turn over documents.
“There is only so much that can be controlled,” Mehta said. “If Congress doesn’t disclose the evidence — I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I’m not aware of any effort for a federal judge to get Congress to turn over records.”
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