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Justice Department seeks transcripts from Jan. 6 committee

We don't yet know when or whether the Justice Department will get transcripts from the Jan. 6 committee. But the fact that it asked is itself important.


As the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack approached, Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered high-profile remarks and reflected on the road ahead. “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy,” the nation’s chief law enforcement official declared.

As we’ve discussed, the rhetoric raised eyebrows, though for those of us outside Main Justice, it was followed by stretches of silence. We’re left to wonder whether the investigation into the insurrectionist violence was ending or intensifying, widening or narrowing.

Occasionally, however, the Justice Department offers provocative reminders that federal investigators’ work is far from over. NBC News reported:

Justice Department officials heading up the criminal investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol have asked a House committee for transcripts of interviews conducted in its Jan. 6 investigation, another sign the Justice Department is widening its inquiry.

As The New York Times was first to report, the chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Kenneth Polite, and the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., Matthew Graves, sent an April 20 letter to former U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy, who’s serving as the lead investigator for the House select panel.

The message was fairly straightforward: As far as the Justice Department is concerned, some of the interviews conducted by congressional investigators “may contain information relevant to a criminal investigation we are conducting.” They asked the committee to “provide to us transcripts of these interviews, and of any additional interviews you conduct in the future.”

As it turns out, the panel’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, did not jump at the chance to help federal law enforcement. NBC News’ report added that the Mississippi congressman indicated yesterday afternoon that the panel wasn’t prepared to hand over the transcripts while suggesting Justice Department officials could still view specific documents in person.

Thompson went on to tell reporters that the committee was willing to talk to Justice Department investigators but that at this point “we can’t give them full access to our product.”

It’s difficult to say with confidence how or whether this will be resolved — institutions are often territorial about their own documents, and by some accounts, the Justice Department hasn’t exactly been eager to share related materials with Congress — but stepping back, what’s notable is the fact that this request was made in the first place.

In fact, the request for transcripts came on the heels of a separate New York Times report indicating that federal prosecutors “have substantially widened their Jan. 6 investigation to examine the possible culpability of a broad range of figures involved in former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”

Around the same time, The Washington Post also reported that in recent months, a federal grand jury had “issued subpoena requests to some officials in former president Donald Trump’s orbit who assisted in planning, funding and executing the Jan. 6 rally.”

The Post’s report added that the development “shows the degree to which the Justice Department investigation — which already involves more defendants than any other criminal prosecution in the nation’s history — has moved further beyond the storming of the Capitol to examine events preceding the attack.”

It’s against this backdrop that the Justice Department also wants to read the transcripts of the many notable figures who’ve spoken to the Jan. 6 committee.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, we’re still in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to possible legal consequences for those higher up the political food chain. But the more federal prosecutors widen their Jan. 6 investigation and compile evidence, the more likely it becomes that such consequences will ultimately exist.

Over the course of the 15 months, several hundred people have been charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but nearly all of them have one thing in common: They’re relatively unknown, low-level figures who responded to Trump’s dangerous lies.

There’s still reason to believe they may eventually have some higher-profile company.