January 6 Committee: Evidence Trump engaged in ‘criminal conspiracy’, may have broken laws
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack said Wednesday it had evidence that former President Donald Trump and some of his associates may have unlawfully tried to obstruct the count. electoral votes of Congress and “had engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States”. in their efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
The committee argued in a federal court filing on Wednesday that Trump may have committed two crimes as he challenged an offer by former Trump attorney John Eastman to block investigators from obtaining thousands of pages of emails.
The panel argued that the records should not be protected by solicitor-client privilege under the criminal fraud exception, given that Eastman’s legal advice may have aided Trump in committing several crimes .
“The facts we have gathered strongly suggest that Dr Eastman’s emails may show that he helped Donald Trump advance a corrupt scheme to obstruct the counting of electoral college ballots and a conspiracy to prevent the transfer of power,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., panel leaders said in a statement.
Eastman’s attorney, Charles Burnham, said in a statement to ABC News that Eastman “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 that responsibility by charging him with criminal conduct,” Burnham said. “Because this is a civil matter, Dr. Eastman will not enjoy the constitutional protections normally afforded to those accused by their government of criminal conduct. Nonetheless, we look forward to responding in due course.”
Representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
The new filing marks the first time the committee has charged Trump with specific criminal activity, working to disrupt the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 and waging a campaign to overturn results in key states and promote allegations not based on widespread electoral fraud. .
“As the courts ruled overwhelmingly against President Trump’s allegations of election misconduct, he and his associates began planning extrajudicial efforts to overturn the election results and prevent the president-elect from entering into function,” the committee wrote in its filing. .
“At the heart of these efforts was an aggressive public disinformation campaign to persuade millions of Americans that the election had in fact been stolen. Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as his own campaign staff, had advised the president that his claims were inaccurate.”
Although lawmakers on the panel cannot charge Trump with a crime, they suggested their investigation would result in a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether or not to prosecute the former president.
In arguing that Trump and his key allies tried to stop the electoral vote count and pressure former Vice President Mike Pence “to manipulate the results in his favor,” the committee cited several interviews with senior White House officials and aides to Pence, including his attorney and chief of staff.
“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 committee wrote in the filing.
Eastman was subpoenaed by the committee in January for his role in drafting two legal memos claiming Pence had the power to overturn the Jan. 6 election results.
He continued to advocate for Pence to overturn the results even as pro-Trump rioters clashed with Capitol police and sent the vice president into hiding on Capitol Hill.
“We are now under siege,” Pence attorney Greg Jacob wrote to Eastman, blaming him in a Jan. 6 email released by the committee on Wednesday.
“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss failed to do what was necessary to have this released publicly so the American people could see for themselves what happened,” replied Eastman to Jacob amid the riot. .
Later that evening, Eastman wrote to Jacob again: “I implore you to consider another relatively minor violation [of the Electoral Count Act] and adjourn for 10 days to allow the legislatures to complete their investigations, as well as to allow a full forensic audit of the enormous amount of illegal activity that has occurred here,” according to another email released by the committee. .
In the court filing, the committee wrote that this email correspondence suggests that Eastman “knew what he was proposing would violate the law, but nonetheless urged the vice president to take these actions.”
Earlier this week, the California State Bar announced an investigation into whether Eastman violated state ethics laws for attorneys in his work with Trump to challenge the 2020 election results.
Exhibits released as part of Wednesday’s court filings also included excerpts from the depositions of several key witnesses the committee has interviewed over the past few months, including Trump adviser Jason Miller, former Pence chief of staff Marc Short and former Pence national security adviser Keith Kellogg. The interviews show what kinds of conversations took place between key figures in the Trump circle before and on January 6.
According to an exhibit, Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, described that “shortly after the election, a campaign data expert told the president ‘in fairly candid terms’ that he was going to lose.”
But Trump disagreed with the campaign data expert, Miller said, according to the exposure.
In another exposition released Wednesday, Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told the Jan. 6 committee that Trump had repeatedly pressed the Justice Department to “say publicly that the election was corrupt or suspicious or unreliable,” even though Donoghue himself had “personally advised ‘Trump’ in very clear terms” that the Justice Department concluded there was no evidence to support the key voter fraud allegations. .
Another exhibit shows a text message from Ben Williamson, an aide to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, on January 6 warning Meadows: “I would recommend that POTUS post a tweet about respecting police on Capitol Hill – get a little hairy there.”
ABC News’ John Santucci contributed to this report.