By the end of yesterday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, it seemed difficult to imagine there’d be any additional revelations. After all, Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, had just shared so many bombshell revelations, the political world was struggling to catch its breath.
But as Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the bipartisan panel, began some closing remarks, she shared one dimension to the larger scandal that was new and legally significant. NBC News reported:
Jan. 6 committee members revealed at the close of Tuesday’s hearing that they are concerned that allies of former President Donald Trump are trying to intimidate witnesses who are cooperating with the special House panel.
In context, the Wyoming congresswoman was thanking Hutchinson for having the courage to testify and explaining to the public how it took courage for the young former White House aide to appear as a witness. It was at that point that Cheney raised a related point about other witnesses.
“Our committee commonly asks witnesses connected to Mr. Trump’s administration or campaign whether they’ve been contacted by any of their former colleagues or anyone else who attempted to influence or impact their testimony,” Cheney explained. Evidently, some witnesses were, in fact, contacted by those interested in having an influence.
One witness described receiving phone calls. “What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the right team,” the unnamed witness said. “I’m doing the right thing. I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World — and they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just keep that in mind as I proceed through my interviews with the committee.”
Another witness received related pressure. “A person let me know you have your deposition tomorrow,” the witness was told. “He wants me to let you know he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”
Cheney concluded her comments by saying, “We will be discussing these issues as a committee, carefully considering our next steps.”
If that sounded to you like a committee leader planning to make a referral to the Justice Department, you weren’t alone in getting that impression.
In case this isn’t painfully obvious, witness tampering is a felony. As the Jan. 6 investigation has unfolded over the course of many months, we’ve focused on a series of possible crimes — obstruction of official proceedings, unlawful entry into the Capitol, incitement of violence, etc. — but over the course of two minutes at the end of a breathtaking hearing, Cheney added a provocative new possibility to the mix.
What’s more, it’s worth appreciating the degree to which this is a qualitatively different angle to the larger scandal. For the most part, everything the House select committee has explored relates to events that unfolded in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat and the runup to Inauguration Day 2021.
The alleged witness tampering, in contrast, occurred far more recently. Indeed, it may be happening now.
While the Justice Department has taken a methodical approach to examining the events of Jan. 6, federal law enforcement can’t take its time with possible witness tampering, since it risks undermining an ongoing investigation.
Finally, let’s also not forget that this is exactly the sort of thing we know the Justice Department takes seriously. Roger Stone, for example, was convicted of witness tampering, and would’ve even been sent to prison had Trump not rescued him with one of his more outrageously corrupt pardons.
Watch this space.