January 6 committee says Trump may have engaged in 'criminal conspiracy'

Investigative panel claims for first the time that evidence suggests former president may have committed a crime

The committee claims Donald Trump and his associates worked to advance a 'corrupt scheme' to spread misinformation about the results of the 2020 election. Reuters
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The US House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol has claimed evidence suggests former president Donald Trump may have been involved in “criminal conspiracy”, a court filing shows.

Mr Trump and his associates worked to advance a “corrupt scheme” to spread misinformation about the results of the 2020 election in an effort to prevent certifying then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's electoral victory.

“The Select Committee also has a good-faith basis for concluding that the president and members of his campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States,” the House panel said in the lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in the Central District of California.

Wednesday night's filing marks the first time the committee has linked a formal crime to Mr Trump. The committee does not have the power to bring criminal charges on its own and can only make a referral to the Justice Department.

The January 6 panel made the claim in response to an investigation into lawyer and law professor John Eastman, an adviser to Mr Trump, who advised the former president as he attempted to overturn the election.

“The facts we’ve gathered strongly suggest that Dr Eastman’s emails may show that he helped Donald Trump advance a corrupt scheme to obstruct the counting of electoral college ballots and a conspiracy to impede the transfer of power,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chairwoman Liz Cheney said in a statement.

The committee said it has evidence that Mr Trump sought to obstruct an official proceeding — in this case, the certification of the election results — by trying to strong-arm former vice president Mike Pence into delaying the proceedings so there would be additional time to “manipulate” the results.

Mr Trump knew he hadn't won enough electoral votes to secure the election, but “nevertheless sought to use the vice president to manipulate the results in his favour”, the filing said.

The former president and Mr Eastman “worked jointly to attempt to persuade the vice president to use his position” on January 6 to reject certified electoral votes and/or delay the results by sending the votes back to the states, it added.

Mr Eastman pressed Mr Pence, in his ceremonial role, to pause the certification, a January 6, 2021 email exchange between Mr Eastman and Mr Pence's chief counsel shows.

“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so the American people can see for themselves what happened,” Mr Eastman wrote, an email released by the committee said,

The filing represents the most comprehensive look yet at the findings of the January 6 committee. While the panel can’t pursue criminal charges, members want to provide the public a thorough account of the attack, in which hundreds of people brutally beat police, pushed through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of Mr Biden’s win.

The committee has so far interviewed hundreds of witnesses — including members of Mr Trump's family and former allies — and has received thousands of documents related to the investigation.

Mr Thompson said he expects to hold public hearings in April and release an interim report in June. The committee is expected to release a full report later this year, before the US midterm elections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: March 03, 2022, 4:02 PM