The Justice Department’s increasingly ardent pursuit of former President Trump and his associates, with 40 new subpoenas and the seizure of at least nine cell phones in a week, shows prosecutors are feeling the heat to nail down their case against the former administration before potential Republican congressional gains in the November elections.
That is the conclusion of veteran federal prosecutors and investigators after witnessing the flurry of activity in the Justice Department’s probe of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Mr. Trump’s role in efforts to overturn 2020 election results.
The stepped-up campaign comes despite an unwritten Justice Department rule that strongly discourages actions such as a criminal indictment that could influence voters within 60 days of an election. The onslaught of subpoenas signals that the Justice Department is trying to gather as much evidence now in case Republicans take the House and Senate in November and move to stymie the investigation, analysts say.
Robert Sanders, a former U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) captain who teaches at the University of New Haven, said the looming midterms are among the factors playing into Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to escalate the investigation.
“Garland is proceeding on multiple paths and some are contingent on what the American electorate may or may not do, so if he needs additional pieces of the puzzle and if he thinks he’s going to be denied or obstructed, he needs to get it now,” Mr. Sanders said.
A Republican-controlled Congress can’t stop the Justice Department’s Jan. 6 probe, but it can impede the investigation or starve it of resources. It could also shut down the House Select Committee created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate the Jan. 6 riot, which has opened up new lines of inquiry for the Justice Department.
SEE ALSO: Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, complied with DOJ subpoena in Jan 6 probe: Report
GOP lawmakers could hold hearings, summoning Mr. Garland and FBI Christopher Wray before various committees and demanding they explain themselves. GOP committee chairmen would also have subpoena power, with the authority to run their own investigations into the Justice Department’s activities.
If any former administration officials eyed by the Justice Department are working for a GOP lawmaker, Congress could prevent them from cooperating. That would stall the investigation, forcing prosecutors go to court and ask a judge to force that person to cooperate.
“Congress has the ability to make life miserable for Garland and the Justice Department,” said Andy Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois and former member of the late independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s team that investigated President Clinton over financial and perjury charges.
“If the climate were to change and the Democrats have big losses in the House and lose the Senate, there won’t be much enthusiasm for these investigations. If you’re asking about the escalation of activity, follow the politics,” he continued.
Republican lawmakers have already vowed a protracted fight with the Biden administration over what they say is the “weaponizing” of the Justice Department and FBI to take down Mr. Trump, who is weighing another run for the White House in 2024. They have pledged to press the Justice Department hard over all of its investigations of Mr. Trump, including a separate one over the alleged mishandling of classified government documents.
The documents probe, which is separate from the department’s election investigation, resulted in the FBI raiding Mr. Trump’s residence last month and seizing scores of documents.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican and presumed speaker if the GOP reclaims the House, has promised to “conduct immediate oversight” of the Justice Department and “leave no stone unturned,” if his party returns to power.
Multiple committees could have hearings, following the same playbook the Republicans used after the deadly September 2011 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Hearings carried on for months and repeatedly put top Democrats, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the hot seat.
“The Justice Department investigation into the former president will take a back seat to any congressional investigations related to the who, what, where, and how of these probes,” said Eric Caron, who served as a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. “The hearings will keep the spotlight on the Justice Department and why these two cases against President Trump were initiated.”
A swarm of subpoenas
As GOP lawmakers vow to scrutinize Mr. Garland and call him before Congress, the Justice Department is blanketing Trump associates with subpoenas, seeking information related to the activities of the former president’s Save America political action committee, which has been Mr. Trump’s main fundraising vehicle since leaving office.
It was revealed late Tuesday that Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has complied with a Justice Department subpoena regarding the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, according to a report. He is the highest-ranking Trump official to have responded to a Justice Department subpoena.
Mr. Meadows turned over thousands of text messages and emails to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot before he stopped cooperating. He provided the same materials to the Justice Department, meeting the obligations of the subpoena, CNN reported Wednesday.
Mr. Meadows had previously withheld hundreds of messages from the Jan. 6 committee, citing executive privilege, though it’s unclear if those messages were withheld from the FBI. Efforts by The Washington Times to reach Mr. Meadows for comment were unsuccessful.
Within the last week, federal agents with court-authorized search warrants took the phones from Boris Ephshteyn, an in-house counsel who helps coordinate Mr. Trump’s legal efforts, and Mike Roman, a campaign strategist who oversaw Election Day operations for the Trump campaign in 2020, according to public reports.
Ben Williamson, one of Mr. Meadow’s top deputies, was also subpoenaed by the Justice Department. That subpoena sought testimony and records related to Jan. 6 and Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Another subpoena recipient was Dan Scavino, Mr. Trump’s former social media director, who was a key West Wing aide and remains an adviser to the ex-president. Also subpoenaed was Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner, who promoted claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020. Mr. Kerik is a longtime friend of Rudy Giuliani, a former Trump lawyer who has also been subpoenaed.
Mike Lindell, the My Pillow CEO and outspoken backer of Mr. Trump’s election fraud claims, said this week the FBI served him with a subpoena for the contents of his cellphone in a separate, but related case involving a Colorado county clerk under investigation for tampering with voting machines.
On his internet show, “The Lindell Report,” the pillow salesman said agents questioned him about Tina Peters, the Mesa County, Colorado clerk who is facing state charges for allegedly allowing an unauthorized person to access voting machines.
Ms. Peters, who has espoused the theory that widespread voter fraud cost Mr. Trump the 2020 election, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Prosecutors say she helped an unauthorized person make copies of sensitive voting machine hard drives. Information from the machines and secure passwords were shared with election conspiracy theorists online.
Shortly after the data leak, Ms. Peters appeared at an event hosted by Mr. Lindell, who has also promoted widely-discredited conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was rigged.