The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol said in a court filing late Wednesday that it had evidence that former President Trump and his allies engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” by trying to block Congress from certifying the election.
This is the first time that the committee has presented a possible criminal case against Trump.
The committee’s submission was a landmark in their investigation. It included uncommon disclosures of its findings. The file also contained excerpts from the depositions and interviews of witnesses with former Vice President Mike Pence’s top advisors.
Wednesday’s filing was in response to a lawsuit brought by right-wing attorney John Eastman, who advised Trump in his final weeks in office. Eastman refused to give documents to the committee, and claimed attorney-client privilege. He said he was Trump’s lawyer.
The document details how, as Trump and his associates pushed allegations of voter fraud in the weeks following the 2020 election, the former president was told multiple times they weren’t supported by evidence.
The filing describes how Eastman encouraged Trump to press an “unconstitutional plan”, and tried to convince Vice President Mike Pence and his advisors to join the effort. The committee also revealed that, while the attack on the Capitol began, Eastman’s attorney and Pence were exchanging blames over the violence. Greg Jacob, Pence’s lawyer, wrote in one email that “thanks for your bullt, we are now under siege.” Eastman replied, “The’siege” is because YOU and YOUR boss didn’t do enough to make this public so the American people could see what actually happened.”
Committee chair Congressman Bennie Thompson and vice chair Congresswoman Liz Cheney said the committee “refutes” Eastman’s privilege claim.
” The facts that we have gathered strongly indicate that Dr. Eastman may have helped Donald Trump to advance a corrupt scheme in order to block the counting of the electoral college ballots, and to prevent the transfer of power,” the panel stated in a statement. The panel stated that evidence provided a basis to conclude that former President Donald Trump illegally attempted to block an official proceeding. It also said that it was corrupt. “
“(E)vidence and information available to the Committee establishes a good-faith belief that Mr. Trump and others may have engaged in criminal and/or fraudulent acts, and that Plaintiff’s legal assistance was used in furtherance of those activities,” lawyers for the committee argued in their court filing Wednesday evening. The committee claimed that Eastman was present at the rally in January 6th. They also claim that he participated in spreading “proven falsehoods” to the thousands who attended the event. This allegation is consistent with the fact that he has a larger role in many issues that the Select Committee is currently investigating. “
Thompson and Cheney said in a statement late Wednesday that, as a judge noted in a previous hearing, “Dr. Eastman’s privilege claims raise the question whether the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege applies in this situation. The committee explained that communication between lawyer and client is not protected from disclosure when a client consults with an attorney to obtain advice which will help him commit fraud or other crimes. “
Charles Burnham Eastman, Eastman’s lawyer, stated in a statement that Dr. John Eastman, like all lawyers, has the responsibility of protecting client confidentiality, even at great personal risk. To Dr. Eastman’s attempts to fulfill this obligation, the Select Committee charged him with criminal activity. This is a civil case and Dr. Eastman won’t be entitled to the Constitutional protections that are normally available for those who have been accused of criminal behavior by their government. We look forward to responding as soon as possible. “
Eastman invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to 146 questions in his deposition, according to the transcript in the filing. The filing stated that Trump repeatedly asked Vice President for unilateral authority.
“President Trump and members of his campaign knew he had not won enough legitimate state electoral votes to be declared the winner of the 2020 Presidential election during the January 6 Joint Session of Congress, but the President nevertheless sought to use the Vice President to manipulate the results in his favor,” the filing said.
The filing came hours after Thompson said the committee aims to release an interim report of its finding this June. Thompson stated Wednesday to reporters that investigators were aiming at completing depositions of witnesses before the start of April. He stated that the committee would hold public hearings in April, followed by an interim report to be issued in June. The timeline of the committee could be delayed if investigators discover new information, or request testimony from more witnesses.
So far, investigators have spoken to over 650 witnesses, according to a panel aide. The committee has publicly issued just over 90 subpoenas.
Meanwhile, former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro did not show up for his scheduled deposition Wednesday, he confirmed to CBS News.
The committee issued subpoenas for many Trump supporters, ex-White House officials, campaign staff and others involved in planning the rally that took place outside the White House. Two top Trump allies, Steve Bannon and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, have been held in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas, and the Justice Department has charged Bannon. They claimed they had been following Trump’s instructions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the House select committee last year to investigate the January 6 attack, when thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol as Congress counted the electoral votes, a largely ceremonial final step affirming Joe Biden’s victory. The riot led to the deaths of five people and the arrests of hundreds more. Trump was impeached by the House one week later for inciting the riot but was acquitted by the Senate.
-Scott MacFarlane, Rebecca Kaplan, Ellis Kim, Zak Hudak, Nicole Sganga, Rob Legare and Catherine Cannon contributed reporting.