By most measures, the biggest headline from the Jan. 6 committee yesterday was the decision to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The bipartisan select panel formally urged federal prosecutors to pursue charges against Donald Trump for obstructing an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiring to make false statements, and inciting an insurrection.
But the proceedings also shed new light on possible witness tampering. The Washington Post reported:
The committee has periodically suggested there might have been an effort afoot to obstruct justice by influencing the testimony of key witnesses. That’s one of the potential crimes spotlighted in the report — though not necessarily one the committee has directly tied to Trump. Some of the quarter of a billion dollars which Trump raised using false stolen-election claims was used to hire lawyers, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said during the hearing Monday. Those lawyers took actions that the committee found concerning.
“For example, one lawyer told a witness, the witness could in certain circumstances tell the committee that she didn’t recall facts when she actually did recall them,” Lofgren said. “That lawyer also did not disclose who was paying for the lawyer’s representation, despite questions from the client seeking that information.”
The unnamed client was told, “We’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now.”
Lofgren went on to highlight a related situation in which a client “was offered potential employment that would make her, ‘financially very comfortable’ as the date of her testimony approached, by entities that were apparently linked to Donald Trump and his associates. These offers were withdrawn or didn’t materialize, as reports of the content of her testimony circulated. The witness believed this was an effort to affect her testimony.”
If this sounds at all familiar, it’s not your imagination. Toward the end of a committee hearing in June, Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the bipartisan panel, explained, “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.” The Wyoming congresswoman said that 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.”
About two weeks later, at the next hearing, Cheney explained from the dais, “After our last hearing, President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation — a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings. That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call and instead alerted their lawyer to the call. ... Their lawyer alerted us, and this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.”
Yesterday, Lofgren moved this element of the larger story forward, adding new details about the nature of the behind-the-scenes interactions.
To be sure, there are details that we do not yet know, including questions of who was contacted and who did the contacting. But the Jan. 6 committee has urged the Justice Department to give this fresh scrutiny, and given the circumstances, that seems like an excellent idea.