WASHINGTON ― Investigators from both the Department of Justice and the House Jan. 6 committee appear to be edging closer to former President Donald Trump and his immediate family for their roles in the events leading up to that day’s violent assault on the Capitol.
In a federal court filing Tuesday, lawyer Bilal Essayli said prosecutors asked his client, Jan. 6 defendant Brandon Straka, about his connections to Trump personally.
“The government was focused on establishing an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president, to disrupt the joint session of Congress on January 6,” Essayli wrote.
Straka, who spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington the day before the Capitol attack, is awaiting sentencing for his involvement in the January 2021 insurrection, an attempt to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss. He was originally charged with a felony for egging on rioters to take away a police officer’s shield and to enter the building itself, but was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge in exchange for his cooperation.
Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 committee on Tuesday issued subpoenas to three of Trump’s lawyers involved in spreading his lies that he had actually won the election and suggesting extraconstitutional ― and possibly illegal ― means of remaining in power. Among them is personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
And the committee has also subpoenaed the phone call and text message logs of middle son Eric Trump, who spoke at the pre-insurrection rally near the White House and told the audience that Democrat Joe Biden had not actually won the presidency.
Eric Trump, through a spokeswoman for the family business, said Wednesday that he had nothing to conceal. “The witch-hunt continues. This partisan committee is welcome to review my phone records,” Eric Trump said in a statement. “I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
In fact, the House committee is bipartisan, with two Republican members, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not permit two other Republicans who had helped spread Trump’s election lies from serving on the panel.
CNN and ABC have both reported that the committee has also subpoenaed the phone records of Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of eldest son Donald Trump Jr. He, Guilfoyle and Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump, also spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, as did Giuliani.
The former president capped off that event with a 72-minute speech in which he repeated his false claims that the election had been riddled with fraud and that he had actually won, and then urged the tens of thousands in attendance to march on the Capitol to pressure lawmakers and his own vice president to install Trump for a second term. “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he told them.
While federal prosecutors have charged some 700 Trump supporters in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, the filing by Straka’s lawyer is the first clear indication that investigators are looking for a link to Trump personally, and appears to back up a pledge by Attorney General Merrick Garland to pursue the investigation wherever it may go.
“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” Garland said on the eve of the insurrection’s first anniversary. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
And House Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, in a statement accompanying the subpoenas of Trump’s lawyers, said the panel is seeking to understand the “pressure campaign” to overturn the election. “The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former president about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” said Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.
A year ago, Trump became the first president to refuse to turn over power peacefully to his successor. He spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the November 2020 contest that he lost. Hours after polls closed and it appeared that Biden would be the winner, Trump stated that he had really won in a “landslide” and that his victory was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued with a string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states.
After the Electoral College voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump instead turned to a last-ditch scheme to pressure his own vice president into handing Trump the election during the pro forma congressional certification of the election results on Jan. 6.
Trump asked his followers to come to Washington that day and told the thousands who showed up that they should march to the Capitol to intimidate Mike Pence into doing what Trump wanted. “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules,” Trump said.
Having a mob presence at the Capitol was key to two possible scenarios Trump and his allies were pushing: One, pressuring Congress and Pence into declaring Trump the winner notwithstanding the actual election results, or, two, delaying the certification vote long enough for GOP lawmakers in states won by Biden to send their own slate of Trump electors.
The mob of supporters stormed the building and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” when the vice president did not do Trump’s bidding. The riot left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and four other officers took their own lives in the following weeks and months.
Though the House impeached Trump for inciting the attack, all but seven Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, chose not to convict him ― thereby letting Trump continue his political career even as he is the subject of several investigations.