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January 6 Recap: Judge Finds Trump May Have Broken the Law as the Justice Department Expands its Scope

The DOJ is broadening its investigation into the attack on the Capitol, but it’s not going far enough for some Democrats.

Andy Cross/Getty Images
Trump attorney John Eastman has become a key figure in the January 6 investigation, after a judge ruled that he must release a tranche of emails to the select committee probing the assault.

Here’s what happened this week

It’s been another hectic week for developments related to the investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol. A federal judge in California on Monday said that it was “more likely than not” that former President Donald Trump broke the law in attempting to obstruct the counting of electoral votes. The judge also ordered former Trump attorney John Eastman to release 101 emails from around January 6, 2021, to the House select committee probing the assault. “Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” Judge David Carter wrote.

Tuesday brought another bombshell when The Washington Post and CBS News reported that internal White House records show a gap of seven hours and 37 minutes in Trump’s phone logs on January 6, during the time period when rioters laid siege to the Capitol. There has been extensive reporting about phone calls Trump conducted during the attack, raising questions about how these calls were made.

The Justice Department will be expanding its criminal investigation into the assault to probe the preparations for the rally that preceded the insurrection, including the financing of the event, according to reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post. Federal prosecutors are also widening their scope by seeking information about former executive officials and members of the legislative branch who were involved in any efforts to obstruct the certifying of electoral votes. This news indicates that the Justice Department is broadening its investigation beyond the attack itself to encompass the events leading up to it.

The budget proposal from the Justice Department released this week also includes a request for 131 additional prosecutors for cases related to the attack. More than 775 people have already been charged in connection to the riot, more defendants than in any other criminal prosecution in the country’s history.

But members of the January 6 committee also expressed frustrations with the Justice Department this week. On Monday, the committee unanimously voted to recommend that former Trump White House officials Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro be referred to the department for criminal contempt of Congress charges for defying subpoenas. During that meeting, several members of the committee questioned why the agency hasn’t charged former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, whom the House referred for a contempt charge in December. “The Justice Department has a duty to act on these referrals and others this committee has sent,” Representative Adam Schiff said during the hearing.

Who to watch

A growing chorus of congressional Democrats this week called on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases related to the January 6 attack, after reports revealed that his wife repeatedly pressed Meadows on overturning the election. A smaller number have called on Thomas to resign or be impeached. It will be worth watching what Thomas does, as well as any action that Chief Justice John Roberts may take. But it is also important to keep an eye on members of Congress, to see if this spurs any action on implementing ethics rules for the court.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and former adviser, was expected to appear voluntarily before the committee this week, as first reported by ABC News. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, had previously signaled willingness to appear before the committee.

In other news, hell hath no fury like a Senate candidate scorned. After Trump revoked his endorsement of GOP Representative Mo Brooks for Alabama’s open Senate seat last week, Brooks released a scorching statement alleging that Trump had repeatedly raised the idea of overturning the election and reinstalling him as president. Brooks on Tuesday teased that he would be willing to talk to the committee, telling reporters: “I will take that under advisement if they ever contact me.” Although the committee has asked a few Republican representatives to testify voluntarily, none have so far; Brooks’s bombshell may influence the willingness of the committee to take further steps to seek interviews from its congressional colleagues.

Further reading

  • Representative Bennie Thompson, the chair of the January 6 committee, has made a career of using the legal system to combat challenges to free and fair elections.
  • Ginni Thomas’s text messages could implicate another member of Trump’s inner circle: John Eastman.
  • The committee is facing a time crunch as it prepares to hold public hearings as early as May.
  • Federal prosecutors and congressional investigators are honing their focus on a specific tweet from Trump ahead of the rally on January 6, telling supporters to “be there, will be wild!”

Best quote of the week on January 6

“If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”—Judge David Carter of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, in his decision ruling that John Eastman must turn over his emails to the committee.