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Hutchinson Testimony Exposes Tensions Between Parallel Jan. 6 Inquiries

WASHINGTON — The explosive testimony of a former Trump White House aide on Tuesday may have increased the likelihood of new prosecutions over the Capitol attack, but it also exposed ongoing conflict between the Justice Department and congressional investigators .

Federal prosecutors working on the case watched the aide’s appearance before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 riots, and were equally amazed at her account of former President Donald J. Trump’s increasingly desperate attempt. to stay in power like other viewers. † The panel failed to provide them with any videos or transcripts of its recorded interviews with committee members beforehand, according to several officials, leaving them feeling caught off guard.

The testimony of the aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, who worked for Mr. Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, came at a critical juncture in parallel investigations that will soon converge and may clash as the commission concludes a public inquiry targeting to maximum political effect and the department is intensifying a high-stakes investigation aimed at securing watertight convictions.

Committee members have repeatedly suggested that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland did not act quickly enough to follow up on their investigative directions. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear—Washington’s classic bureaucratic territorialism, the department’s reluctance to share information, or the desire to host a successful public forum—members have resisted handing over hundreds of transcripts until they’re done. are done with their work.

Senior Justice Department officials say this has delayed their investigation. Ms Hutchinson’s name has not yet appeared on subpoenas and other court documents related to their investigation into the attempt to reverse the 2020 election, and she did not appear to be a primary witness before the hearings.

The commission and its supporters say its independence has allowed it to establish an investigative roadmap for the department’s subsequent investigations, even as members remain divided on whether or not to file an official criminal charge against Mr. Garland. .

“It’s reasonable to view this series of most recent hearings as a slow-motion reference in light of conduct that warrants at the very least a criminal investigation and possible prosecution,” said David H. Laufman, a former federal prosecutor and senior government official. the Ministry of Justice. “They didn’t hold anything back.”

At each of its hearings this month, the panel has presented evidence that members believe could be used to support a criminal investigation. The commission has released new details about cases that could build around a conspiracy to defraud the American people and Mr Trump’s own donors, as well as plans to file false voter rolls at the National Archives and an official Congressional proceeding. to hinder.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the committee explained how Mr. Trump had warned of violence, allowed a mob of his loyalists to attack the Capitol and, in fact, consented to what they were doing.

A person familiar with the panel’s work said Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and vice chair of the committee, took a leadership role in overseeing the team that explored Mr. Trump’s inner circle and played an important role in organizing the surprising hearing with Ms Hutchinson.

Over the past month, the commission has aired hours of testimony — nothing more significant than Ms. Hutchinson’s story of Mr. Trump’s actions on the day of the attack — which legal experts say open a possible criminal case against Mr. Trump for inciting the mob. or an attempt to obstruct the special session of Congress.

That, in turn, has increased the already intense pressure on Mr Garland and his top assistants. The now-familiar meme – urging Mr. Garland to do its “work” by indicting Mr. Trump – started showing up on social media even before Ms. Hutchinson left the hearing room.

“We need some action from the DOJ, and we need it now,” Arizona Democrat Representative Ruben Gallego said in an interview. “We are now in a time crunch. Every day these criminals roam free is another day they evade justice. As we get closer to the midterm elections, I fear that inaction will only give complicit Republicans more power if they seize power.”

Committee members, for their part, have repeatedly and publicly called on Mr Garland to do more, even as the panel has denied the Justice Department access to his transcripts. (A spokesperson for the commission has said the panel is in negotiations with the Justice Department and could hand over its transcripts as early as July when it ends its public hearings.)

“I haven’t seen any indication of the former president himself being investigated,” California Democrat and committee member Adam B. Schiff said recently on “Meet The Press” on NBC, adding: “It’s not a difficult decision to investigate when there is evidence in front of you.”

That followed a steady drumbeat of similar statements from panel members who have urged the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Trump and charge his allies, who do not want to cooperate with the commission’s investigation, with contempt.

Garland and his top advisers have repeatedly declined to comment on the details of their investigation, except to say they will follow wherever the evidence leads them. His spokesman had no comment on Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony and what it meant for the work of the Justice Department.

In recent weeks, the panel has openly debated whether it should put additional pressure on the department by issuing a criminal referral at the end of the investigation.

After Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and the committee chair, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the panel probably wouldn’t, other members, including Mr. Schiff and Ms. Cheney, quickly disputed that claim.

“The January 6 Select Committee has not reached a conclusion on possible criminal references,” Ms Cheney wrote on Twitter this month. “We will announce a decision on that in due course.”

The panel also suggested that Mr. Trump and unnamed people close to him were involved in improperly influencing witnesses.

Members have suggested, for example, that the former president may have misled Representative Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the House of Representatives, when he refused to cooperate with the investigation.

On Tuesday, Ms. Cheney showed what she believes were two examples of unnamed Trump associates attempting to influence witnesses. A witness was told to “protect” certain individuals in order to “stay in good grace in Trump World.” In the other case, a witness was encouraged to remain “loyal.”

“Most people know that trying to influence witnesses to testify falsely raises very serious concerns,” said Ms. Cheney. “We will discuss these issues as a committee and carefully consider our next steps.”

According to Punchbowl News, Mrs. Hutchinson was given such a warning. A person familiar with the commission’s investigation corroborated that story. Her lawyer did not respond to a message asking for comment.

The allegations were reminiscent of other questions that have emerged about the use of harassment by Mr. Trump and his allies to prevent witnesses from involving Mr. Trump.

During the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, dangled a pardon from Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

Mr Trump later pardoned Mr Flynn after he stopped working with investigators. Mr. Trump himself had similar overtures to his personal attorney and fixer, Michael D. Cohen.

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