Federal prosecutors have directly asked witnesses in recent days about former President Donald Trump’s involvement in efforts to reverse his election loss, the New York Times reports, suggesting that the Justice Department’s (DOJ) criminal investigation has moved into a more aggressive and politically fraught phase. The department’s investigation into a central element of the push to keep Trump in office — the plan to name slates of electors pledged to Trump in battleground states won by Biden — now appears to be accelerating as prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington ask witnesses about Trump and members of his inner circle, including the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Two top aides to Vice President Mike Pence testified to a federal grand jury in the case last week, and prosecutors have issued subpoenas and search warrants to a growing number of figures tied to Trump and the campaign to forestall his loss. If a decision were made to open a criminal investigation into Trump after he announced his intention to run in the 2024 election, as he continues to hint he might do, the department’s leadership would be required to undertake a formal consultation process, then sign a formal approval of the department’s intentions under an internal rule created by former Attorney General William P. Barr and endorsed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. But, Garland has repeatedly asserted his right to investigate or prosecute anybody, including Trump, provided that is where the evidence leads.
The questions about Trump focused on, among other topics, the plan he was pushing to derail congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6, 2021, the person familiar with the testimony said. The two Pence aides who testified to the grand jury — Marc Short, who was his chief of staff, and Greg Jacob, who was his counsel — were present at an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, when Trump sought to pressure Pence into embracing the plan to cite the competing slates of electors as justification to block or delay the Electoral College certification. In recent weeks, the DOJ also seized phones from two key figures, John Eastman, the lawyer who helped develop and promote the plan to upend the Electoral College certification, and Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ official who was at the center of the related push to send the slates of electors pledged to Trump from states Biden won. Prosecutors have also issued grand jury subpoenas to figures connected to the so-called fake electors scheme. Those who have received the subpoenas have largely been state lawmakers or Republican officials, many of whom put their names on documents attesting to the fact that they were electors for Trump from states that were won by Biden. The subpoenas show that prosecutors are interested in collecting information on a group of pro-Trump lawyers who helped to devise and carry out the plan, including Eastman and Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was Trump’s personal lawyer.