Trump allies subpoenaed over plot to overturn election

The US House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued new subpoenas on Monday (local time) for a half-dozen allies of former President Donald Trump, including his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as it moved its focus to an orchestrated effort to overturn the 2020 election.

The subpoenas reflect an effort to go beyond the events of the Capitol riot and delve deeper into what committee investigators believe gave rise to it: a concerted campaign by Trump and his network of advisers to promote false claims of voter fraud as a way to keep him in power. One of the people summoned on Monday was John Eastman, a lawyer who drafted a memo laying out how Trump could use the vice president and Congress to try to invalidate the election results.

In demanding records and testimony from the six Trump allies, the House panel is widening its scrutiny of the mob attack to encompass the former president’s attempt to enlist his own government, state legislators around the country and Congress in his push to overturn the election.

Flynn discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers after the election. Eastman wrote a memo to Trump suggesting that Vice President Mike Pence could reject electors from certain states during Congress’ count of Electoral College votes to deny Joe Biden a majority. And Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who was also subpoenaed, participated in a planning meeting at the Willard Hotel in Washington on January 5 after backing baseless litigation and “Stop the Steal” efforts around the country to push the lie of a stolen election.

“In the days before the January 6 attack, the former president’s closest allies and advisers drove a campaign of misinformation about the election and planned ways to stop the count of Electoral College votes,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the committee chair, said in a statement. “The select committee needs to know every detail about their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to in the White House and in Congress, what connections they had with rallies that escalated into a riot and who paid for it all.”

The panel also issued subpoenas for Bill Stepien, Trump’s campaign manager, who supervised its conversion into a “Stop the Steal” operation; and Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the campaign who participated at the January 5 meeting at the Willard, where associates discussed pressuring Pence not to certify the Electoral College results.

Also included in the group that received subpoenas on Monday was Angela McCallum, the Trump campaign’s national executive assistant, who left a voice message for an unknown Michigan state representative in which she said she wanted to know whether the campaign could “count on” the representative to help appoint an alternate slate of electors.

The subpoenas — which bring to 25 the number issued by the committee — require that the witnesses turn over documents this month and sit for depositions in early December. More than 150 witnesses have testified in closed-door sessions with the committee’s investigators. None of the six Trump allies who were subpoenaed on Monday immediately responded to requests for comment.

The panel’s latest move indicates that it is zeroing in on how — in the days and weeks before a throng of Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted Congress’s counting of votes — the former president’s closest associates were planning an effort stretching from the Oval Office, the House and Senate to state officials across the country.

Critical to that push, investigators believe, was the meeting the day before the riot at the Willard Hotel. The Washington Post reported that Kerik paid for rooms and suites in Washington hotels as he worked with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, to promote baseless litigation and “Stop the Steal” efforts.

“They are really honing in on this strategy at the Willard Hotel,” said Barbara L McQuade, a former US attorney and a law professor at the University of Michigan. “If it’s a campaign war room, that’s one thing. But the question is: To what extent are they looking at blocking the certification of the election? The Eastman memo is a real smoking gun. It really appears to be a concerted effort here.”

Even as the committee ramps up its inquiry, it is facing stonewalling from Trump and many of his allies, whom he has directed to defy the panel based on a claim of executive privilege.

Trump has filed suit against the committee to keep secret at least 770 pages of documents concerning handwritten notes, draft speeches and executive orders, and records of his calls, meetings and emails with state officials. But the Biden administration has declined to support his claim to executive privilege, arguing that there is no such prerogative for documents related to an attempt to undermine democracy and the presidency itself.

The Justice Department is weighing whether to charge Steve Bannon with criminal contempt of Congress after the House voted last month to recommend his prosecution for defying its subpoena. Another witness, Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who was involved in frenzied efforts to overturn the election, refused to cooperate on Friday.

Flynn, who spent 33 years as an Army intelligence officer, has emerged as one of the most extreme voices in Trump’s push to overturn the election.

Flynn attended a meeting in the Oval Office on December 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines, declaring a national emergency, invoking certain national security emergency powers and continuing to spread the false message that the 2020 election was tainted by widespread fraud, the committee said. That meeting came after Flynn gave an interview to the right-wing site Newsmax in which he talked about the purported precedent for deploying military troops and declaring martial law to “rerun” the election.

Stepien helmed Trump’s reelection campaign, which urged state and party officials to affect the outcome of the election by asking states to delay or deny the certification of electoral votes and by sending multiple slates of the votes to Congress to allow a challenge to the results, the committee said. In particular, Stepien supervised a fundraising effort that sought to profit off the election challenges and promote lies about voting machines that campaign staff had determined to be false, the committee said.

Trump and the Republican Party raised $355 million (US$255.4m) in the eight weeks after the election as he promoted unfounded accusations of fraud.

Eastman has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent weeks after it was revealed that he wrote a memo to Trump suggesting that Pence could reject electors from certain states. Eastman is also reported to have participated in a briefing for nearly 300 state legislators, during which he told the group that it was their duty to “fix this, this egregious conduct, and make sure that we’re not putting in the White House some guy that didn’t get elected,” the committee said.

He met with Trump and Pence to push his arguments, participated in the January 5 meeting at the Willard and spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse on January 6 before the Capitol assault. As violence broke out, he sent a message blaming Pence for not going along with his plan.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Written by: Luke Broadwater

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