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Donald Trump is increasingly agitated by the House select committee investigating the attack on Capitol Hill, according to sources familiar with the matter, and appears worried about being involved in the sprawling insurgency investigation even as he protests his innocence.
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In recent weeks, the former president has complained more about the investigation, asking why his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, shared so many documents on January 6 with the select committee, and why dozens of other collaborators also cooperated.
Trump has also been disturbed by collaborators invoking the Fifth Amendment in depositions – it makes them appear weak and complicit in a crime, he told associates – and considers them foolish not to follow the example of his former strategist Steve Bannon by simply ignoring the subpoenas. .
When Trump sees new developments in the Capitol Attack investigation on television, he began to swear against the negative coverage and lamented that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was too incompetent to put Republicans on the committee to defend him.
The ex-president’s anger largely reflects the kind of profanity he once directed at the Russia investigation and the Special Council investigation when he occupied the White House. But the rapidly accelerating investigation into whether Trump and his key aides illegally conspired to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Jan.6 joint session seems to disturb him deeply.
The portrait that emerges from interviews with several sources close to Trump, including current and former aides, suggests a former president unmoored and cornered by the rapidly escalating intensity of the committee’s investigation.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
But as Trump struggles to protect himself from the select committee, with public hearings next year and the Justice Department following the investigation, the way forward is likely to be even more dangerous.
The former president is particularly sensitive to his potential for legal exposure, although he maintains that he did nothing wrong by conferring means to quash the 2020 election and encouraging his supporters to march on the Capitol. He expressed concern to his associates about the repeated defeats in court as he sought to prevent the select committee from obtaining some of the White House’s most sensitive documents around Jan.6 from the National Archives, for reasons for executive privilege.
The reality is that with each passing day, the committee seems to be gathering new evidence of Trump’s guilt around the attack on Capitol Hill that could lead to recommendations for new election laws – but also for prosecutions.
“I think the Department of Justice will keep a close eye on the evidence the committee has accumulated, as well as looking for witnesses for a potential case,” Ryan Goodman, former special counsel at the Department of Defense, said today. ‘hui professor of law. at New York University.
“One of the outcomes of committee work and public hearings will be to show people who might want to testify and this must be very important to DOJ prosecutors,” Goodman said.
House investigators are soon expected to exceed more than 300 interviews with Trump administration officials and Trump political agents in a process that produced 30,000 documents and 250 advice via the select committee’s advice line .
The wave of recent revelations – such as the disclosure of Meadows’ link to a powerpoint describing how Trump might stage a coup, as the Guardian first reports – has raised fears that the select committee is moving quickly to a conclusion incriminating.
Trump associates insist they are not worried, at least for now, since the select committee has yet to obtain documents covered by executive privilege through Meadows or the National Archives that could trap Trump personally. .
Defenders for the former president are correct in this regard – the committee has no messages showing Trump is leading an attack on Capitol Hill, a source said – and Trump has pledged to appeal the National Archives before the Supreme Court.
Related: House panel assembles mountain of evidence as part of Capitol attack investigation
But no one outside of the select committee, which progresses leisurely from a glass office on Capitol Hill with closed windows and electronically secured doors, knows exactly what it has discovered and whether the investigation ends in a criminal referral.
The material Meadows single-handedly delivered describes an alarming strategy to stop Biden’s certification on January 6, involving virtually all of the federal government and lieutenants operating out of the Willard Hotel in Washington.
A member of the select committee described the events around January 6 as showing a fusion of several strategies: “There was a DoJ strategy, a state legislative strategy, an official state electoral strategy, the strategy of the government. vice-president. And there was the strategy of the insurgency.
The texts Meadows received on his home phone involved Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr, and Republican members of Congress. The texts Meadows handed to the committee could also be used by an enterprising prosecutor as evidence of criminal obstruction to stop a Congressional proceeding if the White House knew that the election fraud was claiming to be lies but was still using them to stop the certification of Biden.
While Meadows never testified about communications, a group of senior Trump officials, from former acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg to former Pence chief of staff Marc Short, decided to cooperate with House investigators.
The problem for Trump – and part of the source of his frustration, the sources say – is his inability, while absent from office, to wield the extensive executive power to affect the course of the investigation.
The limited success of strategies he hoped to thwart the committee – ordering aides to defy subpoenas or launching court challenges to slow the release of White House files – has been shocking to Trump.
“I think what he’s finding is that as a former president he has a lot less authority than he had as a president. But his playbook doesn’t work if he’s not president, ”said Daniel Goldman, former senior counsel in the House’s first impeachment inquiry against Trump.
In a reflection of the dwindling legal avenues available to undermine the investigation, Trump has resumed launching email attacks on the select committee, dangling his predicament and what he sees as an investigation designed solely for the select committee. hurt politically.
“The unselected committee itself is rigged, stacked with Never Trumpers, Republican foes and two disgraced RINOs, Cheney and Kinzinger, who couldn’t be voted ‘dog catcher’ in their districts,” said Trump last month.
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Privately, Trump has reportedly reserved the bulk of his contempt for Meadows, furious at his former White House chief of staff for sharing sensitive communications in addition to all the unflattering details about Trump included in his book this month. .
Trump’s associates, however, focused more on the question of the select committee’s legitimacy and composition, arguing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed the two Republican members to reduce the investigation to one. partisan political enterprise.
They also argue that none of the revelations to date – like the Guardian’s report on Trump’s call to the Willard Hotel, in which he pressured officers to completely prevent Biden’s certification from taking place. – does not constitute a reprehensible act.
But until then, Trump has no choice but to wait for the committee’s report.
“The Department of Justice appears to be more reactive than proactive,” Goodman said. “They may be waiting for the committee to finish its work to make criminal referrals.”
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