September 25, 2023

Dozens of witnesses have testified as the January 6-focused grand jury questions Trump

WASHINGTON — Federal grand jurors investigating Donald Trump’s attempts to stop the transfer of presidential power following his 2020 election loss have heard testimony from dozens of witnesses in a comprehensive investigation that has examined the former president’s conduct during the time of before Election Day to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, according to an NBC News analysis.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, appointed in November by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee investigations into Trump’s handling of classified documents and his attempts to stay in power, has led an extensive investigation in the nearly eight months since.

While a grand jury in Miami indicted Trump on 37 counts in early June on seven federal charges related to the documents search and alleged attempts to obstruct it, a federal grand jury in Washington is still meeting on the third floor of the E. Barrett Prettyman US Courthouse in the 2020 Election Survey.

Smith was charged with investigating any violations of law related to attempts to “interfere with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election or the certification of the Electoral College vote” on Jan. 6, “as well as any matters arising or directly arising from this investigation could ensue.”

Bringing charges against Trump in connection with his speech at the Ellipse before the January 6 attack on the Capitol was always going to be a challenge. Trump’s words are protected by the First Amendment, and his rhetoric – telling people in the crowd that they would “no longer have a country” if they didn’t “fight like hell” – could fit within the realm of heated political rhetoric . Trump also explicitly told the crowd to march “peacefully,” which would make the charge even more difficult.

Instead, Smith’s team examined areas where there may be a clearer example of potentially illegal behavior. The witnesses called indicate that the special counsel’s investigation has focused particularly on the “fake voter” scheme in which false slates of voters from states Trump lost claim to have won. A total of 84 fake voters in seven swing states signed documents falsely declaring Trump the winner.

Reporters and producers regularly camp out in the courthouse lobby, watching the stairs and elevators and trying to spot witnesses entering the grand jury room. Over the course of several months, Washington residents serving on the grand jury have heard testimony from witnesses ranging from little-known campaign workers to Secret Service agents to the former Vice President of the United States.

Mike Pence, the most prominent witness to appear before the grand jury, testified in late April following a court order to comply with a subpoena, NBC News reported, just over a month before announcing he would challenge Trump for president in 2024. Two of Pence’s aides who were with him at the Capitol on Jan. 6 also testified before a grand jury last summer, ahead of Smith’s nomination. Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short appeared in July 2022, according to a source familiar with his testimony, and several news outlets reported that Greg Jacob, Pence’s defense counsel, also testified; he declined to comment.

Earlier this month, NBC News reported that two of the “dummy voters” appeared before the Grand Jury in Washington; their testimony came the same day Trump first appeared in court in Miami.

Gary Michael Brown, the former deputy director of Election Day operations for the Trump campaign, also testified before the federal grand jury on June 22 and declined to comment to NBC News outside the courthouse. The Jan. 6 commission said last year it found evidence that Brown was “aware of and participated in efforts to promote unsubstantiated allegations of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election and encourage state lawmakers to review the outcome of the November 2020 elections by, among other things, naming alternate electoral rolls to send competitive electoral votes to the United States Congress.” The committee received a text message Brown sent to other Trump campaign officials after delivering the mock votes to Congress the day before the January 6 attack, which included a selfie of him in front of the Capitol.

The investigation began in earnest last year, around the time federal law enforcement officers with the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ official whom Trump was considering becoming acting attorney general despite his lack of any experience in criminal law. . Court documents showed that officers were at Clark’s home to investigate potential charges of false statements, criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Federal agents also seized phones belonging to four key promoters of Trump’s stolen election claims: Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, whose phone was seized in a Hardee’s drive-thru; John Eastman, the Trump-affiliated lawyer who propagated the discredited theory that Pence had the power to refuse to certify the election; Boris Epshteyn, a longtime Trump adviser who was part of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s legal effort to overturn the election results; and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who helped connect the White House to Clark.

In September 2022, before Smith took over the investigation, the Justice Department issued about 40 subpoenas, including to former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who also worked with Giuliani’s legal team, and Epshteyn, who recently met with special counsel for two days, ABC News reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. Epshteyn did not respond to a request for comment on his reported appearance.

After Smith took over in November, his team subpoenaed officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania asking them to communicate with or involve Trump, his campaign and 19 Trump aides, including Eastman, Giuliani, Justin Clark, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis.

Giuliani spoke with members of Smith’s special counsel team in recent weeks, as CNN first reported. Robert Costello, Giuliani’s attorney, did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment, but a spokesman, Ted Goodman, confirmed that Giuliani and Costello had met with Smith’s team on an “entirely voluntary basis.”

Other individuals who have testified before the federal grand jury, received subpoenas, or spoken to investigators about January 6 and efforts to stop the peaceful transfer of power include:

  • Former White House attorneys Patrick Philbin and Pat Cipollone, who were scheduled to testify in September and were spotted at the courthouse in December. Both men testified before the January 6 committee, saying they had opposed Eastman’s plan to have Pence refuse to certify the election because it was not legal.

  • Former Trump White House officials Stephen Miller and Dan Scavino, who was seen leaving the courthouse on May 2.

  • Former Department of Homeland Security official Ken Cuccinelli, who told NBC News he had testified, and former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, according to an ABC News article citing sources familiar with the case. A Ratcliffe spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment to confirm Ratcliffe’s grand jury appearance.

  • “Stop the Steal” leader Ali Alexander, whose group organized the rally leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Alexander confirmed on social media last June that he had testified before a federal grand jury.

  • Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, according to CNN. Gingrich, who suggested in an email quoted by the c
    ommittee on Jan. 6 that Trump might encourage Republican-led lawmakers to refuse to send voters to confirm his loss, did not respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

  • Steve Bannon, who was found guilty last year on two counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to four months in prison, received a grand jury subpoena for testimony and documents in late May.

  • About half a dozen Secret Service agents, who also testified before the federal grand jury, according to two sources familiar with their testimony.

  • Former Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Republican who testified before the Jan. 6 committee about his refusal to support the fake voter schedule, has spoken to federal prosecutors. Special counsel also subpoenaed the Arizona Secretary of State’s office.

  • Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump asked to “find only 11,780 votes.” Raffensperger spoke to detectives from Smith’s office on June 28.

Time is of the essence. Any indictment to emerge from such a wide-ranging investigation would be complex, and the 2024 Republican presidential primary is in full swing.

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