Trump may have engaged in ‘criminal conspiracy’: US Capitol panel

A congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol has said it has evidence to suggest former US President Donald Trump may have engaged in criminal conduct in his bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump and his associates engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to prevent Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory, the US House of Representatives committee said on Wednesday.

Trump and those working with him spread false information about the outcome of the presidential election and pressured state officials to overturn the results, potentially violating multiple federal laws, the panel said.

“Evidence 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,” the committee said in a court filing.

“The Select Committee also has a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

The panel said former President Donald Trump and those working with him spread false information about the outcome of the presidential election [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

The 221-page filing marks the committee’s most formal effort to link the former president to a federal crime, as well as the most comprehensive look at its findings so far.

The actual import of the filing is not clear, however, as lawmakers do not have the power to bring criminal charges on their own and can only make a referral to the US Department of Justice. The department has been investigating last year’s riot, but it has not given any indication that it is considering seeking charges against Trump.

A mob of Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol building in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021, as Congress was meeting to certify Biden’s election victory.

The Republican leader delivered an incendiary speech shortly before the riot, repeating false claims the vote had been stolen from him due to widespread fraud. Trump was later impeached for “incitement of insurrection”.

The Select Committee’s members have previously said they will consider passing along evidence of criminal conduct by Trump to the Justice Department. Such a move, known as a criminal referral, would be largely symbolic but would increase political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge the former president and would thrust his department into a political firestorm.

The court document was filed in federal court in Los Angeles as part of the Select Committee’s dispute with John Eastman, a lawyer who advised Trump on a plan to invalidate election results in key battleground states.

The filing also provides new details from the committee’s interviews with several top Trump aides and members of former Vice President Mike Pence’s team, including Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, his chief counsel.

The committee said it has evidence that Trump sought to obstruct an official proceeding — in this case, the certification of the election results — by trying to strong-arm Pence to delay the proceedings so there would be additional time to “manipulate” the results.

“The evidence supports an inference that 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 states.

In a January 6, 2021 email exchange between Eastman and Jacob revealed by the committee, Eastman pushed for Pence to intervene in his ceremonial role and halt the certification of the electoral votes, a step Pence had no power to take.

“I respect your heart here,” Jacob replied. “I share your concerns about what Democrats will do once in power. I want election integrity fixed. But I have run down every legal trail placed before me to its conclusion, and I respectfully conclude that as a legal framework, it is a results-oriented position that you would never support if attempted by the opposition, and essentially entirely made up.”

“Thanks to your bull****, we are now under siege,” Jacob added.

While the House panel cannot pursue criminal charges, members want to provide the public a thorough account of the attack.

So far, lawmakers and investigators have interviewed hundreds of people, including members of Trump’s family and his chief of staff, as well as his allies in the seven swing states where the former president tried and failed to prove he won.

The panel has also sought out information from members of Congress and subpoenaed records and testimony from top social media platforms they believe had a hand in the spreading of election misinformation.

The committee is expected to fully release its findings in a lengthy report or series of reports later this year, ahead of the midterm elections. It is also planning days or weeks of hearings starting in April with some of the witnesses who testified.

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